In the famous parable of the prodigal son, after a time of riotous living, the prodigal comes to himself in the pigpen. He recalls how well his father provided for the needs of his servants, and determines to return home and beg to be hired as one of them. As the young man approaches, the father runs out to greet him joyously. His household servants are part of the welcoming committee; it is they who put the robe on his back and the ring on his finger, who kill the fattened calf and host the celebration. To these servants the father exclaims, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Lk. 15:24). All is forgiven, restored, reconciled. The presence of the servants amplifies the grace, love and joy of the father.
But this is not the end of the story, nor the end of the servants’ role. The older brother, hearing sounds of celebration, asks the servants to explain what the noise is about. One replies, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound” (15:27). The self-righteous brother is disgruntled about the fuss being made over the return of this errant brother, when he has remained at his father’s side all along. Interestingly, it is the servants who directly confront his hard heart, reminding him of the love and goodness of the father toward all. The servants here extol the merciful heart of the father.
This parable beautifully reveals the honor given to God’s servants to deal with two categories of sinners, those who have strayed and are returning home, and those within the fold who are bound by the sin of self-righteous, religious snobbery.
Servants rejoice with their Father and the angels of God when those in the former category repent, come to their senses and return home to the household of God, the church. Simultaneously, when those in the latter category discourage the church from rejoicing at the redemption of souls, servants are ready to declare the Father’s delight in both those who have stayed close to home and those who have departed and returned. Servants thus bring unity within the household, by representing well the merciful heart of the Father to one and all. Servants intercede for the lost and for the found.