Luke 15:3-10-In these verses, Jesus told two illustrations, two stories, one about a man and another about a woman. Both had lost something…diligently searched for it, found it, and then restored it. In both of these stories…just as His listeners were smiling at the “happy ending” and nodding to each other in approval…Jesus had said that in the same way that there is joy on earth when something lost is restored, so there is joy in Heaven when a sinner (someone who has lost their way from God) repents. These stories, and the lesson that they contain, are directed towards the Pharisees. Previously, they had been critical of Jesus because He was associating with tax gatherers and sinners. Jesus tells these stories to illustrate that instead, they should be rejoicing because these people are turning to God. After all, that is exactly what happens in Heaven.
Luke 15:11-32-The parable of the prodigal son. Once again, Jesus wastes no time in-between His stories. He doesn’t allow the Pharisees to have the opportunity to develop excuses for their behavior, or arguments for their attitudes. They were beginning to be uneasy with the direction that this teaching of Jesus was going. Quickly, Jesus now tells the third story in His parable about being lost and found. In this story, we find a new element introduced. Neither the sheep, nor the coin had the mental capacity to realize what they were doing. In fact, it appears that the shepherd and the woman lost the sheep and the coin through their own negligence. But now, the son, the one who would be lost, makes a decision of his own that leads to his predicament. He is responsible for what happens to him. This is made clear by his continuing to make bad decisions…not just to leave home, but literally to throw his inheritance away through “loose living”.
“loose” (NASV), “riotous” (KJV) comes from the Greek word “asotia”, which means…
Having no hope of safety; extravagant squandering, dissoluteness, prodigality…An asotos, a prodigal, is one who spends too much, who slides easily under the fatal influence of flatterers and the two patients with which he has surrounded himself into spending freely on his own lusts and appetites. Asotia is a dissolute, debauched, profligate manner of living…Lawless insolence and unmanageable caprice.
(The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p. 284)
It is worth noting here that the father was not required to give his son his share of the inheritance.
But the prodigal son went even further. Not only did he ask for his inheritance, which was bad enough, but he did something that was utterly unthinkable and downright illegal. He sold his inheritance in a hurry, took the money and skipped town.
Was it really that bad? Indeed it was. The Jewish Mishna, which was probably developing in the time of Jesus, gives this rule: “If one assign in writing his estate to his son to become his after his death, the father cannot sell it since it is conveyed to his son, and the son cannot sell it because it is under the father’s control” (Baba Bathra viii.7). Even if a father decided to divide up his property among his heirs, neither the father nor the heirs could dispose of the property while the father was still alive.
As is often the occasion, it appears that the son’s life quickly got out of control. Matters got far worse than he had ever anticipated. Before long, all of his money is gone and he is working for a pig farmer. A pig farmer! Jews despised pigs…and Jews doubly despised pig farmers. Life could not get much worse. But it did. The word “attached” literally means “to be glued together”, and it is in the passive voice, meaning that it was something done to him. His life is out of his control. He is probably not only out of money, but is now in debt. So, to pay his debt, he has been forcibly employed…against his own will. Life continues in a downward spiral. No one was willing to help him and without any money, he had now become so hungry. His empty stomach ached, and feeling like he was starving, he began to look at the “pods” (the husks, the leftover pig food and slop) that the pigs were eating…and for just a moment he thought about digging in! Then, “he came to his senses”. It didn’t have to be this way. Even the men that his father hired to do day work had it better than this. That was it. He would return home…confess his sin to his father…and plead with him to just hire him as one of those workers. After an arduous journey (made difficult both because of his empty stomach and his wounded ego) the day came when he was approaching home. It is interesting that his father saw him “while he was still a long way off”. A loving father…standing by the roadside. The very road that his son had taken when he left home. How many times had he stood there…with a worried face and a heavy heart and looked down that long, winding road that led to a “distant country” where his son had disappeared? He knew only too well what dangers lay there. This time, in the distance…he sees a figure slowly walking towards him. There is something familiar about it. The gait, the stride. “It looks like…but that man is so dirty, so filthy. It couldn’t be…could it? Could it be? Is that my son? Has he returned?” I love the next words. Read them slowly, deliberately…and realize that Jesus is using this earthly father to portray the love of our Heavenly Father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him.” Thank you, Lord. Thank You, that when I was still far away from You and could do nothing on my own…You took the initiative, You came, and You rescued me. The son tried to make his request. But the father had other plans. And it had nothing to do with this hired worker business. He intended to restore his son fully and completely in their relationship…father and son. That’s what the robe, and the ring, and the sandals are all about. And just to make sure that there was no mistaking what he was doing…he threw a big party where he would have an opportunity to make his decision public.
In the two previous stories, Jesus had only vaguely alluded to the Pharisees. In this third story, He is much more direct. There is another son, an elder son, and he represents the Pharisees and scribes…in their attitudes about receiving back those who have sinned. The older son felt it was not right that the younger son should be so readily received back after all that he had done. And, he felt that he had not been fairly treated. After all, he had never done the things that this brother had done…and yet, his father had never thrown a party for him. The Pharisees would immediately recognize that Jesus is identifying them with the older son. They too felt that it was unfair that those who had sinned should be so readily received back by Jesus…certainly there should be some penalty for their behavior. And undoubtedly, they would feel that they should be awarded more appreciation since they had never sinned like those sinners had. The problem though, is that they revealed in this very attitude the sin of pride that was as bad as the sin that the ones they were condemning had committed. They felt they deserved something more because they were not such bad sinners…and in this attitude the sin of their self-righteousness was exposed. The father is patient with his older son…calling him “my child”. He tells him that he has always had the opportunity to enjoy the privileges of being his son. Nothing has changed. But his younger brother was “dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found”. Surely, such a wonderful event necessitated that they “be merry and rejoice”. Jesus has made it clear that God joyfully receives sinners when they repent. And, that we should have the same attitude.
Prayer: Lord, please forgive me when I judge others and yet fail to judge myself rightly. Help me to rejoice when people turn to You.