The Prodigal Son

“And He said, “A man had two sons. “The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. “And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. “Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. “So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. “And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. “But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”‘ “So he got up and came to his 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. “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. “And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. “And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ “But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. “But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ “And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. ‘But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:11-32)

The Parable of the Prodigal Son told by Jesus is the crown of His response to the accusations of the Pharisees and scribes. The Pharisees and scribes had accused Jesus of associating with sinners, something that the Pharisees would not ever do. Jesus’s response was three Parables, the “Lost Sheep,” (Luke 15:3-7) the “Lost Coin,” (Luke 15:8-10) and the “Prodigal Son.”

The meaning of the word prodigal is spending money or resources freely and recklessly, being wasteful or extravagant. Some have said that the name of the Parable should be “The Loving Father,” as it speaks more of the love of the father than the sinfulness of the son. Also in the Parable we lean much of the heart of the unforgiving son who was the elder. The elder son’s purpose in this Parable is a rebuke to those who are unwilling to reach out to the lost who wish to repent.

The younger son had become anxious to receive his inheritance that was due him and asked his father to give it to him. In the Law of Moses the first born son or the eldest was to receive a double portion of the inheritance. “But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the firstborn.” (Deuteronomy 21:17) As he was the youngest with an elder brother his share of the inheritance would be one third.

The youngest son is not much different that a lot of children today. He was impatient to grow up and wanted to be free of his parental oversight and the restraints of living in a disciplined home. In order to go and be on his own he desired to have the inheritance that was due him from his father and he wanted it now. The father reluctantly grants his son’s request and his son soon leaves for a distant country. Often children leave the nest, so to speak, before they have matured and been disciplined to avoid the pitfalls of life in the world.

At first his life was lived as a party with many new found friends who were all the happier to share in his wealth. He was the prodigal, he was wasteful of the resource he had from his father and he lived the extravagant life far above his means to maintain. Soon the son depletes his possessions and finds himself with no means of support. How often in this world children without the wise guidance of the father they soon starve themselves for the lack of wisdom.

The son’s trials did not end there with his wealth gone and the friends that were bought by it. Famine struck the country and the work dried up leaving little opportunity for real gainful employment. In an act of desperation the son hires himself out to be a feeder of the pigs. For a Jewish lad this would have been one of the most degrading jobs of a young man to do. To the Jews pigs were considered to be unclean animals. “And the pig, for though it divides the hoof, thus making a split hoof, it does not chew cud, it is unclean to you.” (Leviticus 11:17) There was a saying in that day for a Jewish lad who would feed the pigs which was, “May a curse come upon the man who cares for swine!” In his labors feeding the pigs the son became so hungry that he gave great thought to eating the slop that was for the pigs.

The son remembers how well his father fed his hired servants, how they had plenty and how he was perishing for the lack of food. Along with his homesickness was the humiliation of feeding the pigs while he himself was starving. The son resolves to return to the home of his father and confess his sins against heaven. In his humility he would say to his father that he was not worthy to be his son and ask that his father would take him back as a servant.

The son who lived as a prodigal journeys back to the home and security that he had left for the far country. While still a distance from his home his father sees him as he had been watching for the return of his youngest son. The love of his father is immediately made known because of his great compassion for his son. The father runs to greet his returning son and throws his arms about him and gives him a kiss of loving greeting.

The son without hesitation confesses what he has done and tells is father that he is not worthy to be his son. Before the son’s confession is complete the father calls to his servants to bring out the best robes and place them upon his son. They were to put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet that he would be dressed properly for his father’s home. The servants are to kill the fatted calf for the celebration of the return of his youngest son. All of this commanded by the father was to reinstate his son’s importance and authority. The full meaning of this is summarized in the words of the father. “For this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”

The elder brother returns from his labors in the field and wonders what the celebration is about. When he learns from one of the servants he become angry and refuses to join in the celebration. The father came out to plead with his oldest son but the elder son gives him a list of his complaints. He for many years served his father and had never gone against his will. For this dedication he had never received a celebration. Yet his younger brother demanded his inheritance and took it and squandered it on harlots and when he returns home his father kills the fatted calf for him. It is not hard to sympathize with the elder son.

The father tenderly addresses his eldest son and compliments his faithfulness by saying, “you are always with me.” He gives his eldest assurance that his inheritance is his by saying, “all that I have is yours.” The father then tells the eldest that it is right to celebrate, as your brother which is in contrast to what his elder brother has called him, “this son of yours.” Whereas the eldest would not recognize the relation the father reinstates the relation with the words, “your brother.” The father then repeats himself to emphasize the point, “For this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”

The father in this Parable represents the Heavenly Father, the prodigal son is a penitent sinner and the elder brother represents the attitude of the self-righteous. As the Pharisees. “Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2)

The lessons that we can learn from this Parable of the Prodigal Son is the Heavenly Father loves His children. Even when His children turn away from Him His hearts yearns for their return. There is joy in heaven when a sinner repents. “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7) There is joy in the presence of the angels. “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10) It is right to be merry and to be glad. “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:32)

As faithful children of God we need to understand the proper way to receive an erring child of God who has repented and returns. We are siblings in the brotherhood of man and should not be jealous but be joyous in the celebration. We should greet them with an affirmation of love. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians. “Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” (2 Corinthians 2:6-7)

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, April 12, 2017

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