The prodigal son

2024-03-04A

Please read Luke 15:11-24

This is the last in a series of three parables. All three are about something or someone that has disappeared or been lost and found again. The previous two were about a sheep and a coin that went missing. Jesus wanted to make sure that everyone, and especially the hardened sinners, should understand how much He loved them and how He wanted them all to be saved too.

A. THE LOST SHEEP.

An important difference between this parable and the two previous ones lies in the amount of blame that can be ascribed to that which went missing. The sheep probably got lost because it saw something green to eat and then thoughtlessly wandered away from the flock. He was just a sheep and his accountability was perhaps not that much.

B. THE LOST COIN.

We do not know why the coin was lost. Perhaps the children got hold of the string of coins, wrestled over it for possession, broke the string and one coin rolled away, landed in a dark corner and thus was lost. It can perhaps be compared to a daughter who was continuously beaten, abused or trampled on and then ran away and fell into prostitution to stay alive. One could also, to some extent, find an excuse for her lost state.

C. THE LOST (PRODIGAL) SON.

But in this story of the prodigal son, we are dealing with a child who grew up in a well-to-do and orderly home, having a father who truly loved him. Here the fault lay with the boy. He was arrogant. He did not love his father and his father’s love did not count for him. He hated the orderly way of life in their home. So the problem was in his own heart. He, himself was to blame.

D. THE FATHER.

The father’s slate was clean. His plan was to direct the farming himself, with the help of his two sons, so that they could learn how to farm. Shortly before, or just after his death, they would then inherit it all. This was a wise way of handling his estate. The prolonged close fellowship in farming together would also ensure a lifelong sound relationship between all members of the family, as well as their descendants. Even the servants would benefit by the stable workplace that was all important to them.

E. THE YOUNGER SON PREMATURELY DEMANDS AND RECEIVES WHAT HE CLAIMS.

However, one of his sons, the youngest, had other plans. Although he had only an expectation of a future inheritance, he prematurely claimed it as if he already had a legal right to it. His share, that he would one day have received, would probably have been 1/3 of his father’s estate (Deut 21:17).

It is surprising that the father granted his request. He must have seen that the young man was controlled by an arrogant and wayward spirit. To reason with him, would serve no purpose. To keep his son at home against his will, would not do. He loved his son and wanted him remain and work the farm because he loved his father and family, not just to support himself. He would not tie him to himself by earthly possessions. Such a father/son relationship would mean nothing. So he let him go; not empty handed, to scratch his own pot elsewhere, but granted his request and gave him everything he claimed. He set him free to work out his own future unrestricted.

F. A HURRIED TRIP AND DREAMS COME TRUE.

The boy converted his inheritance into money, then went as far away as possible and settled in a jolly town with his pockets filled with money and his suitcases with fancy clothes. 

Right away all kinds of friends, as wild as himself, gathered around him. Of course there were also plenty of beautiful girls that enjoyed the gifts he bought them and the life of luxury and pleasure he could afford. .

G. THE DREAM ENDS IN A NIGHTMARE.

But if one never learned how to work with money, it quickly drains away from you. One day when he put his hand into his pocket as usual, it was empty. He asked his friends on whom he had spent so much, for a plate of food, but they mocked him and walked away. He then searched for work, but a drought had the country in its grip and work was scarce to find. Everyone had to cut back on expenses to get by. 

In the end, a farmer hired him to take care of his pigs because no one else wanted to do it. Everyone was ashamed to be seen in such a humiliating position. Moreover, he basically worked just for a roof over his head. The food he got was worse than the pigs’ pods that he was denied. The Jews considered a pig to be an unclean animal in terms of the Law of Moses. They did not even touch it with their hands for fear of becoming spiritually unclean. This poor young man, from a good background, was now as unclean as he could get.

H. HIS FATHER’S WISE CONDUCT, THOUGH IT HURT.

One may ask why the Father did not do like the shepherd with the lost sheep, or the woman with the lost coin. Why didn’t he go looking for his lost son and bring him back home? The answer is that picking up a sheep, putting it on your shoulders and bringing it home is quite easy. So is picking up a lost coin off the floor and putting it into your pocket. But bringing a prodigal son home and keeping him there, is another matter. You can have your servants lay hold of him, tie him with ropes, hang him over a donkey’s back, take him back home and drop him onto his bed. However, if he does not want to be with you, he’ll escape through the window the very first night and take to the road. 

The father knew that his son would only stay at home if he was convinced in his heart that it was the very best place on earth to be. So the father waited and waited. Every day he stood by the road along which his son had walked away, staring into the distance with hands cupped over his squinting eyes to see if he might not be returning home.

I. STOP DRINKING; TIME FOR THINKING.

Meanwhile, there, in the distant country among the smelly, snorting pigs, the boy had a lot of time to think, to reflect on what he had lost. He had already received and squandered his share of the inheritance. What was left in the estate was his father’s and his brother’s. But what about at least just food, clothing and housing? Even the farm workers were happy with that. They were provided with an abundance of food and sustenance and shared in the tranquility and safety of the farm. If only he could be appointed as one of them, he would be infinitely better off. So he wrestled with his thoughts day by day.

J. THE LONG WALK BACK HOME.

In the end, pride and fear could not hold him back any longer. One fine day he staggered to his feet in his famished, devoured state to face the long road back to the farm. Along the way, he probably often wondered if he was doing the right thing, but the urge in his heart was just too great to give up. It drove him on. Every night he was a little closer. He began to recognize the rivers and mountains. Then maybe started meeting people he knew before.

K. DOUBT FEAR AND SHAME.

What lay ahead? What he feared most was to see the look on his father’s face when arriving home. He was just skin and bone and very dirty. His clothes were in rags and the smell of the pigsty in which he had slept for months, wafted around him. And oh, the guilt, the guilt about what he had done to his father.

L. THE REUNION.

At last he saw the farmhouse in the distance and the people moving about in the yard, the smoke curling up from the hearth. His heart began to beat wildly. Panic rose suffocatingly in his throat. But just as he was on the point of turning back, runiing back the way he had come, he saw through the haze of his tears, a man on the road, running towards him. He blinked and looked again. He knew that trot! Could it be? Yes indeed, it was … his father! And he approached him with outstretched arms. 

The next moment they are together, his father wrapping him in his arms, kissing him over and over on his dirty sweaty cheeks. He began to plead: “Oh Dad, I’m so bitter, bitterly sorry about everything. I have sinned against the Lord and against you. I am not worthy to be your son anymore, but please, just let me be a servant on Father’s farm.”

M. FORGIVEN AND RESTORED TO HIS PLACE OF HONOUR AND SONSHIP.

But his Father did not even answer him to this. He just called to the surprised servants: “Hurry up, go get the best suit of clothes from the closet; a shirt too and a tie, and a ring for his finger and a pair of new shoes. And the rest of you, leave all the work at once. Go to the cattle pen and get the calf that I have been fattening for this very day. Slaughter it. Tell the cook to prepare a table with the choicest food. Also get the musicians and the people from the neighboring farms together and let’s have a big, big party.”

N. A DEAD MAN RAISED TO LIFE: A LOST MAN FOUND.

When the servants still hesitated he shouted: “This son of mine was dead but has come back to life; he was lost and has been found.” Soon after, the festival began.

O. THE HEAVENLY FATHER AND HIS SPIRITUAL SONS AND DAUGHTERS.

When we leave God, He mourns over us as much as a father mourns when his son dies and he has to bury him. But when we return, He rejoices over us as over a son raised from the dead and emerged from the grave. The Lord suffers intense pain because of a lost sinner and goes around with that pain in His heart until he returns. Then he experiences exuberant joy. The joy in heaven for every sinner that returns to the eternal home of his Creator, is perhaps greater than the exuberance expressed at any feast held on earth.

P. OUR RESTORED STATUS IN THE FATHER’S HOME.

Note also that the young man was not received back as a servant, but restored to his position as a son. Oh, the wonderful grace and favour of God. Just think how deeply touched were the hearts of the hardened sinners who came to listen to Jesus. They understood that they too would be welcomed home by God, despite what they had done and how badly they had wasted their lives. They knew that the Father was also waiting for them on the heavenly road. God knows that it is painful for man to serve the devil and therefore He cherishes the hope that every sinner will return to Him.

Please read Luke 15:25-32.

Q. NEWSPAPER HEADINGS, “RETURN OF MR BROWN’S SON GREETED WITH MIXED EMOTIONS”.

While the “bad” people in the audience are still awestruck and wiping tears from their eyes with the back of their hand, Jesus turns to the “good” in the audience, the Pharisees and Scribes, and tells them the rest of the story .

The bonfires for the homecoming of the father’s runaway son had barely ignited and the musicians were just beginning to get the joy flowing, when the eldest son came home. Possibly he had been away attending to matters of the farming. He was of course surprised by the music and singing, called the the first farm worker he met and enquired from him what was the occasion. The servant told him about the homecoming of his younger brother and how happy his father was about it.

 R. THE FLY IN THE OINTMENT.

Immediately he is fury flared up and he even refused to go inside. This was of course reported to his father by the servants. He hurried outside, beaming with joy and begged his older son to join the festival. He, however, was in no mood for rejoicing. He had no feeling at all for his bad runaway brother who had squandered part of their property with street women and now that he had nothing left, was coming home as a tramp. As far as he was concerned, the worthless individual should have died right there in the foreign land. That would have been his deserved reward.

Secondly, he felt extremely wronged because his father had never even offered him a goads kid to slaughter and celebrate with his friends. Yet now his father slaughters a fatted calf for a runaway vagabond. To this his father replied in surprise that everything in the estate was then his and that he could have used any of it without asking permission.

S. COLD HEARTED LEADERSHIP.

What did Jesus mean by this? It was a rebuke to the “good” people, the Pharisees and Scribes who lived a decent life, but did not share God the Father’s love for lost sinners. Their hearts were cold and hard. They were busy with religious things every day, visited the temple and the synagogues, wore nice “church clothes”, stood on the street corners and prayed to be honoured, gave tithes and walked about with long pious faces. Like the elder brother, day by day they were engaged with all kinds of work in the house of God. They however did not enjoy it and never celebrated God as Father. When the true children of God, those that were born again, gathered to sing praises to Him and rejoice over their undeserved adoption, they stood outside God’s house in self-righteousness and gnashed their teeth. So they were just as, yes even more lost than the publicans, street women and other sinners.

T. TWO LOST SONS.

The Father therefore had two prodigal sons; one outside the house and the other inside. The elder brother did not stay in the father’s house because he loved his father and enjoyed spending time with him and working day by day. No it was self-interest that kept him home. As the first-born son, two-thirds of the inheritance would fall to him; that’s why he worked so hard to improve the farm, to breed the livestock and till the fields. It was about himself. He was a selfish loveless person. That his brother came back was a disaster to him because, maybe, his father would let him inherit again and he himself would inherit less.

So it had also been with the Pharisees; they held their spiritual positions for selfish reasons. They were enslaved to the honours of men, but had no love for God or man. The sinner returning to the Father’s House would only soil their religiousness. Furthermore, if such a one received the acclamation of the community, it would draw attention away from themselves. Such people were a threat to them. And who knows if they wouldn’t bring their sins into the “church” and desecrate it. That’s how they felt. One can only imagine how furious they were at Jesus to be confronted like that and that in the presence of the very people they despised so much.

U. EMBRACE THE RETURNING SINNER AND LET HIM FEEL AT HOME.

Let each of us who have returned to the Father’s house and been restored to childhood, also reach out in compassion to those who are still outside, whether they are foul-smelling with visible sin or puffed up with self-righteous pride. God loves them all.

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