11Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. 13"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate. 25"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' 28"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' 31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "(NIV)
LESSONS OF THIS PARABLE
1. Just as the parable's reckless son always had the choice of abandoning his lifestyle and coming home, so all people - no matter what they've done - may confess their sin and turn to God in repentance (vv. 11-20a).
"Father, give me my share of the estate" (v. 12): a shockingly disrespectful thing to say to a father at that time and place, because honour paid to a family - especially to its patriarch - was one of the most common virtues that a Middle East youth was expected to practice. A son - especially a younger son - would not dare ask such a thing, particularly when the father was still alive. Yet, this defiance and irreverence represents well how all humanity has treated the LORD: "God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Ps 53:2-3; cf. Rom 3:10-12)
"The younger son...squandered his wealth in wild living...and he began to be in need" (vv. 13-14): the price that people have had to pay for their rejection of God is high - "the way of the unfaithful is hard" (Pr 13:15); "ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know" (Rom 3:16-17).
"When he came to his senses..." (v. 17) - repentance begins when sinners are able to see their hopeless situation clearly.
"I am no longer worthy to become your son; make me like one of your hired men" (v.19) - repentance is marked by a humility that asks for nothing but mercy (also Lk 18:9-14). And, as Prov 28:13 attests, that is exactly what the son gets upon his return.
2. Just as the parable's father was more than willing to show reconciliation to his returning son, so God gladly offers all people, out of His sheer grace, abundant forgiveness if they repent and believe in Christ (vv. 20b-24).
"His father saw him..." (v. 20) Though, in all likelihood, the son's family declared him "dead" because he disowned them, his father must have felt great loss and sorrow, and longed for his return - note how he "saw him" even when the son "was still a long way off" (v.20). Recall God's sorrow for sinners through the words of Ezekiel: "Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?" (Eze 18:23)
"he ran to his son....the father said, 'let's have a feast and celebrate'" (vv. 20, 22, 23) "However inwardly glad he may have been to see his son again, no older, self-respecting Middle Eastern male head of an estate would have disgraced himself by the undignified action of running to greet his son. Nor would he have interrupted the son's speech before a full display of repentance, or instantly commanded such a luxurious outpouring of affection for him (vv. 22-23). All of these details strongly suggest that Jesus wanted to present his audience with more than a simple, realistic picture of family life. Rather, he used an extraordinary story to illustrate God's amazing patience and love for his ungrateful children." (Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, p. 176, emphasis added).
"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." (Isa 1:18)
Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. (Mic 7:18)
3. Just as the "older brother" of the parable's son should not have resented his brother's return to the family fold - but rather taken joy in it - so those who profess to be God's people should be happy - not angry - that the LORD extends His grace even to "the most unworthy"(vv. 25-32).
That Jesus is probably likening the pride of the older brother to that of the Pharisees can be seen in...
a) the way the older brother becomes angry when seeing his father celebrating the prodigal's return (just as the Pharisees complained about Jesus eating with the tax collectors and "sinners" - 15:2);
b) the way the older brother views the relationship with his father as a "meritorious works" arrangement (just as the Pharisees perceived their relationship to God as being - Lk 18:11); and
c) the way the older brother expresses sheer contempt for his younger brother by calling him "this son of yours" (just as the Pharisees "were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else" - Lk 18:9).
Another strong indication of God's love for sinners can be seen in the way that Jesus, through the telling of this parable, is trying to reach out to the Pharisees and help them see what happiness they could have, if only they took to heart that a) obeying God means having communion with Him as well as serving Him; and b) loving God means sharing in His joy when another sinner repents and comes to faith.
Discussion Question 1: We might say that in this parable, the younger brother was marked by immoral behaviour and the older one by virtuous self-righteousness. Why are both traits offensive to God?
Discussion Question 2: What are some things we can reflect on that would keep us in the same state of humility, and dependence on God, that marked the younger son once he repented (and that would also keep us from becoming more like the older brother)?
Posted by Sean McCausland at 2:02 PM