has been called “the greatest short story ever told.” The quotation is
attributed to Dickens, Emerson, Twain and a variety of religious authors. It
is certainly famous enough to justify the phrase.
Luk 15:11-32 NIV
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 men 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 men.' (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.' "
parable is given in the context of yet another argument with the Pharisees. Their
complaint on this occasion is that Jesus has no sense of propriety about what
kind of people a good rabbi would associate with. In particular, Jesus seems
to have a fondness for tax collectors and other assorted sinners.
this, Jesus tells three parables:
is the parable of the lost sheep. Sheep manage to go astray with very
little effort. Here Jesus makes the remark that there is more joy in
heaven over one repentant sinner than there is for ninety-nine who don’t
second is the lost coin. It didn’t lose itself, but the woman still
searches for it – and rejoices when it is found.
rejoicing continues in this third parable.
may first consider the title character. It is convenient to look at him in
three lights: before his repentance, during his change and when he comes home.
thing is clear: this is a boy in rebellion. He has looked at his father’s
style (i.e. hard work) and decided he doesn’t like the look. He therefore
wants out. Indeed, “I want” is often the source of sin. In this there is a
curious cycle played out in every generation.
is simply this: we want, we get what we want – and then we don’t like the
I point out one little, tiny variation of the theme usually sounded? It’s easy
to imagine the boy in a state of depression. We often picture this young man
as making an emotional decision – largely because this parable is used so
frequently in altar calls. But it’s false. The decision taken here is taken
rationally – when the boy comes to his senses.
too, that this is a decision that results in action. It is not just coming to
the front at an altar call; this kid has quite a hike ahead of him. As he is
going on the way he is rehearsing his speech.
thing we may point out: he has learned the futility of wealth. Every one is
your friend when you are dispensing the gold; no one cares about your diet
when you are broke.
young man’s repentance teaches us these lessons:
acknowledges his sin against his father – but also his sin against God.
It is the nature of sin that it is an offense against God. Which might
explain why his forgiveness is so necessary.
humbles himself. There is no hint of the more common method of coming
home acting like you’re a success.
knows what he deserves. He’s prepared to take his lumps.
obvious picture here is that of God the Father. It is an interesting parallel,
which teaches much.
long way off
little phrase gives up some golden thought:
he saw him that far away, the father must have been looking for him.
Think of the anguish; every day his eyes look down the road, looking for
the one sight he desires most.
he waited, he waited with mercy, not punishment. The kid’s speech was
thought out beforehand; so was the father’s response. It’s just that they
didn’t match. Did you notice that the father never responds to the kid’s
God does that, how then should we pray for the sinners on our prayer list?
ran to his son” – a simple statement, but with great implications for us.
is, as far as I can determine, the only instance in which God the Father
is pictured as running. The Sovereign of the Universe packs up his
dignity, runs down a dusty road and embraces the prodigal. It is love in
that he comes himself – he doesn’t send a servant to him. As Christ came
to us, you may recall.
servants run with him. Our Lord runs to welcome the sinner home; his
servants can do no less.
are about to encounter the older brother’s reaction, so we need a little
they call it mercy, then you didn’t earn it. Mercy cannot be given
because you deserve it. Judgment can.
is no attempt here, or anywhere in Scripture, to distinguish worthy
sinners from unworthy sinners. Even Christ never attempted that
distinction. The only distinction given is between the repentant and those
who are not.
is shown by Christ’s remarks about Nineveh,
even the greatest offenders have a place in the kingdom – if they repent.
in case you’re not convinced of how overwhelming the father’s reaction would
have been, consider these items:
The party was
He went all out at
the party – killing the fatted calf.
how sinners are welcomed home in the kingdom of God.
us begin by saying that the older brother is not Snidely Whiplash.
He doesn’t see things dad’s way, but by our standards the boy is not getting a
fair deal here.
his mind, the older brother has a fair grievance: he’s being treated
unjustly. The kid comes home and gets a party; surely fairness would dictate that
he should have more than that? And what has he gotten?
good part of this is the view the righteous take of themselves. There is a
fair amount of sense in his position – but there is also a fair amount of envy,
as well. He knows that the remainder of dad’s estate will go to him; he knows
that dad thinks well of him. What he wants is fair treatment – justice, in
this from inside the brother’s head. His view of himself is that he has done
well and behaved righteously – and therefore is deserving of reward for this.
His brother is a scoundrel; not only did he squander his inheritance, it looks
like he’s getting a hero’s welcome for doing it! If spending all his money on
booze and prostitutes gets you this kind of welcome home, what should the
faithful son get?
you hear the envy of the sinner? Can you hear the contempt for his brother?
you didn’t notice this, but the father came out to his older son – because the
son wouldn’t come near the house. It’s the same as with the prodigal.
doesn’t deny that his brother has sinned, as well as being rather foolish in
the process. His reply is simply this: the most important thing is neither
the righteousness of the older brother nor the sins of the younger one. The
most important thing is the love of the Father.
I point out:
father goes out to sinners – even the self-righteous ones. Should we not
do the same as we can?
receive mercy means that you didn’t deserve. If you are saved by grace,
you are a sinner. No one earns mercy.
the mercy of God towards us. Which he then commands us to give to others.