Luke 15:11-24 The Parable of the Prodigal: The Father and the Younger Son

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt

"The Return of the Prodigal Son" by Rembrandt

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to [1] one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ [2] 22 But the father said to his servants, [3]‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

  • The main point:  The wonderful love and forgiving grace of God, ready to welcome back sinners at the first sign of repentance.
  • That is the obvious point.  However, there is deeper meaning to this parable.
  • The younger son brought shame and disgrace to the father.  To ask for his inheritance before his father was dead was like saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead.”  Then to sell the his share of the land to some stranger for money was shameful.  Possession of land was extremely important to Jewish families in Jesus’ time.  To just go and sell it for money was unheard of.  Imagine the pain and shame the Father felt.  But he allows this to happen without argument.  He just hands over the son’s portion of the inheritance without question.  No father in Jesus’ day would allow that to happen.
  • And to add insult to injury, the younger son leaves home for the big city abandoning his family.  In our culture it is quite common for children to leave home in the country to make their way in the big city, however in Jesus’ culture sons didn’t leave their families.  This would be viewed as even more shameful.  Again, the Father lets the son go without question.
  • Finally, with all his money wasted the younger son lands a job feeding pigs.  Jewish people and pigs don’t mix.  This would not be viewed as an honorable profession.  To the Jewish son this would be the lowest of all possible lows.
  • But how remarkable is the Father?  Or should we say the Running Father?  He was the father, the head of the family, a distinguished elder in his community.  But he sees his son and runs to greet him.  Jewish elders did not run for anyone.  To run would be considered undignified, an act that was beneath his position in life.  But this Father runs as soon as he says his son far away in the distance and doesn’t stop until he reaches him.
  • “His lavish welcome is of course the point of the story: Jesus is explaining why there is a party, why it’s something to celebrate when people turn from going their own way and begin to go God’s way…..the father’s closing line says it all. ‘This my son was dead and is alive.  He was lost and now is found.’  How could this not be a cause of celebration?” N. T. Wright
  • There is another dimension of this story that exists.  Consider the exodus from Egypt and then the subsequent exile into Babylon many years later.  Although many of the exiles returned, most of Jesus’ contemporaries believed they were still living in virtual exile under pagan rule.  They were all waiting for a new exodus, to be liberated from the pagan powers.  The story of the prodigal son would be seen by many as a reference to the hope of Israel.  The concept of resurrection was used commonly to refer to the true return from exile.  This point would be nailed home when the Father says, “This son was dead and is alive.”
  • Jesus was declaring that the new exodus was happening at that very moment.  When people repent and turn to God they are returning from exile.  God was fulfilling his promise to Israel but not in a way that was expected by the religious leaders.  Wasn’t that a good reason to throw a party?  Jesus thought it was.
  • So back to the main point of this parable, God’s costly love.  There is probably no better illustration in all the Bible of what God’s love is like (aside from the Cross).  It is now up to me to imitate and share this love with all those lost sons in the world.  Will I imitate the father or will I act like the older son?  We will deal with that question in the next post.
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