12A. The Prodigal Son

Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 12A. The Prodigal Son

Luke 15:11-24: Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “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. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So 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. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  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. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Comment: The Parable of the Prodigal Son is, I suspect, one of the most famous of the parables that Jesus told. It does go on to include the response of the older brother but for the sake of these studies we will consider that latter part as a separate study.

Context: This is the third of the three parables about something that was lost and all of them are in respect of the negativity that is seen in the Pharisees to Jesus meeting with tax collectors and ‘sinners’. Whereas the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin are short and to the point, this parable is more a full-blown story, and yet it makes the same point except more strongly.

Content:

  • a man has two sons, one who wants his share of his inheritance – now.
  • so the father divides the property between the two sons and the younger took his wealth and left.
  • he spends all his tangible assets and when a famine hits the land where he now lives, he can only find a job feeding pigs.
  • eventually he realizes what a foolish state of affairs this is and determines to go home in contrition.
  • while still some way off from home his father sees him and runs to greet him.
  • the son confesses his folly but the father simply has him dressed, with a ring on his finger, and holds a feast to celebrate his return.

Simplicity:  The content is quite simple isn’t it. A young man rejects the comforts of home, wants his inheritance to spend on himself, does just this and is left in penury, comes to his senses and returns home where he is wholeheartedly welcomed by his father, without condition. The two things that stand out are the young man’s bad attitude and subsequent folly, and then the wonderful grace of his father.

Application: 1) Us: Although Jesus does not spell out the meaning of this parable, the intent is pretty obvious.  First of all, surely, the young man has to represent us, the human race in our unsaved state. We were ungracious about the world God had given us and we disdained Him and simply wanted to grab whatever we could for ourselves.  i.e. we were self-centred and godless. Now the process that follows may initially be common to all, but not all ‘come to their senses’. The truth is that before we turn back to the Father we live dysfunctional lives that are very far from what God originally designed them to be, and most people tolerate this and live like this without realizing the awfulness of it. However for those who are ‘chosen’ (seen by God before the foundation of the world to respond like this) the Holy Spirit is able to convict them of their pride and their general folly so that they come to recognize that they have sinned against God and are unworthy to be called anything great. Nevertheless, we return to the Father in contrition, in sorrow, with repentance and we come expecting nothing really, we have no rights, no ability to make demands; the folly was ours, one hundred per cent!

Application: 2) God: The Father of the story has to be God and yet for some He seems almost too good to be true. We might expect Him to chide the returning prodigals and lay have strictures on them for their future behaviour if He is to accept them back, but no, there is nothing like that. Instead He does everything He can to make us welcome, to feel part of the family again.  This is, I believe, one of the most powerful evidences of the wonderful love of God. We can read the statement, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) but it is only when we see it in action in this parable that we start to fully appreciate the wonder of it.  Read the parable again and worship the One who loves us like this

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