What would be our attitude towards someone who comes to us that everyone knew had been very hurtful to his family, been regularly with prostitutes and was dressed in rags covered in pig dung?
Just such a story is ours today.
Let’s review the well-known parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 and what the father and two sons can teach us.
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 “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. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 “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! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 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. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “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. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. 25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
The Greedy Child (Luke 15:11-16)
A lazy and greedy second child wants to bleed his father dry, taking what he can of his inheritance before his father’s death. In our society as well as theirs that would be presumptuous. Verse 12 reveals that he divided the inheritance between them. Both children received their inheritance as a result. If most of the inheritance was land, it would have meant selling part of a farm for cash. The son squandered the money traveling to a distant country. Unlike the Jews, whose law required them giving to the poor, not many Greeks and Romans believed in giving alms. Verse 16 confirms that no one gave him anything. He was in a desperate situation on the edge of death.
The Turning Point (Luke 15:17-20)
We see the beginning of repentance in the prodigal son, coming to a better mind. Repentance is a change of mind, but as Jesus told the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptism, bring forth fruits of repentance. And so the younger son made the difficult journey home in shame. Would his father turn his back and disown him, demand he wash the pig dirt off before touching him? Would the father demand the son enter a probation period instead of a party? Would he accuse the wasteful son of embarrassing him and the family name? How do we treat those who are taking cautious, awkward steps out of the stench of life's tragically bad decisions back to God?
A Father’s Love (Luke 15:20-24)
Like the prodigal son, we have all distanced ourselves from God at times. We have turned our back on him and put heaven to shame. Yet, all that is forgotten in an instant when we make any effort to return. Even while the son was a long way off, his return brought great joy to his father. Even if we are still a long way off, let us begin making just a few steps in return to God. This parable shows how God will run to greet us with great joy. Though probably well-rehearsed, the son’s confession was interrupted by his father’s jubilant plans for a homecoming party. As we begin to pray again, God forgives before we even finish.
A Son’s Anger (Luke 15:25-32)
The story of the prodigal son is about two lost sons. The older son who did not squander his inheritance on prostitutes but rather faithfully served his father was also lost. His anger revealed that he was lost because he did not understand mercy and grace. Instead, he only understood hard heartedness and unwillingness to forgive a brother. Are some of us in the Church, who have perhaps not strayed as far as others, in that same frame of mind? Do we carry a grudge against anyone who has left and is trying to find their way back home? Are our judgmental attitudes an obstacle between others and God? Let's rejoice because he was lost, but now he is found.
Next time we see someone trying to rekindle a relationship with us who has hurt us deeply and hurt the family and is trying to find a way back, let’s welcome them with open arms and throw a party. Next time we sin greatly, let’s know ahead of time that God will welcome us back with open arms the minute we repent.
References: Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.; Wilkins, Michael J. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.; Nolland, J. Vol. 35B: Word Biblical Commentary : Luke. 2002. Dallas: Word, Incorporated. 497.; R.T. France. NICNT. The Gospel of Matthew; William L. Lane. NICNT. The Gospel of Mark; Green, Joel B. NICNT. The Gospel of Luke; J. Ramsey Michaels. NICNT. The Gospel of John. Grand Rapids, Mich. W.B. Eerdmans. 2007; 1974; 1997; 2010.; Brian Stoffregen. Exegetical Notes. crossmarks.com/brian/