Today, as we continue our look at the Gospel of Luke, I want to look at another parable that is unique to Luke's gospels. Perhaps you are very familiar with this parable; The Parable of The Prodigal Son.
"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 spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. Se 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." (Luke 15:11-16)
Perhaps this story resonates with many of us. The prodigal son could just as easily be the prodigal daughter, The prodigal husband or wife, or perhaps even the prodigal mom or dad. Yes, along the way the grass begins to always look greener on the other side of the fence. "Oh, if only...or, what if..." we think to ourselves. I can remember when I said, "I can't wait to leave home!" My wife always offered to help our sons pack their bags. What was interesting was when our sons would threaten to run away from home as soon as they got back from school; instead, when the bus let them off they ran as fast as they could into the house and straight to the refrigerator.
The son in the parable is ready to leave home. He asks his father to give him his share of the estate. The father obliges. The son takes all he has and runs for the better place. He can't get there fast enough. He is going to live the good life. Of course, as soon as his money runs out, so does his luck. What an insult it must have been to have to take care of pigs. Most likely he grew tired of the farm life back home and vowed to never feed an animal again. "Chasing cows is beyond me!" he thought, "I'm better than this!" Well, now he is slopping the hogs. Can you imagine when one of them stuck his cold, wet snout up against this boys leg? "Oink!" the pig said, as if to say, "More slop, please!" Yes, the fellow lost everything. And, he now discovers that there is not a soul who cares. He has reached rock bottom. What will he do?
"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! 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 men.' So he got up and went to his father." (Luke 15:17-20a)
Could he have simply said, "I'm going back home?" No! Why did he think the best he could expect was to be "hired" as an employee? Because of what he asked for in the beginning. When he asked for his share of the estate he asked for his share of his inheritance from his father. In that day and time that was the same as looking the father in the eye and declaring: "You are the same as dead to me." This was more than an insult. In that culture a father's honor was something that was more than just highly valued. Defending one's honor, or even reclaiming honor was often a matter of life and death. The father's honor was not only insulted, but in essence lost within the community because of the action of this son.
The son realizes that his only option is to beg his father to let him work for him. So, here is a lost son returning home. How would he be accepted by the father he insulted? "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." (Luke 15:21-24)
First of all, notice that the father "saw the son while the son was still a long way away." This implies that the father was looking for his son. He kept his eyes on the stretch of road that his son walked down on his way to the far country. When the father saw his son "he ran to his son..." We have to realize that running was something that grown men did not do in that culture. This father doesn't care what others think about his actions. Notice also, the son gives his spill about being sorry. I'm certain that he has rehearsed his speech since he left the far country. But, I don't think the father heard a word of it. The father only wants to celebrate. But what will the son's status be? Remember, he was only hoping for a job, but he discovered that he was still a son. The father welcomes him back as his son. The father puts a ring on his finger. This was the equivalent in that day of giving him his father's credit card. All is well at home...well...not really!
We discover that the other brother is furious. Why? He had remained on the farm and remained faithful to the father. The father never gave him a fatted calf, nor threw him any celebrations. Where is the appreciation for remaining faithful? He did not take his inheritance and squander it on prostitutes. The father reminds him that there was no reason to celebrate because he had not been lost. But, he does tell him, "My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours." (Luke 15:31) The father could have added; "All you would have to have done was ask."
O.K., so why did Luke include this parable? This parable is one of three in the fifteenth chapter that deals with lost things (or people) being found. (the lost coin and lost sheep are the other two) Is Luke just dealing with lost things? I think there is more. For one thing, the reaction to the return of the lost son is the typical reaction to salvation in Luke. For Luke, the proper reaction to salvation is joy and praise. But then there is another purpose of this story. The three parables are told after the "Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." (Luke 15:2) The religious leaders of the day did not think they were in need of forgiveness and mercy. (Not much different than today) The Parable of the Prodigal son illustrates God's eagerness to forgive those who don't deserve it. Plus, this parable is not focused on what is lost, but what is gained. The brother in the story most likely represents the Pharisees and teachers who are mad because they had been faithful in so many ways, yet God is bringing in these "sinners." Yet, God's grace and mercy is there for them too, if they would just reach out and ask for it.
Well, Monday we will begin to look at the Passion narrative in Luke's Gospel. It will be interesting what we discover. Join me again each morning next week as we continue our journey through the Bible. -Pastor Rick