THE PRODIGAL SON
Pastor Bob Oliver
New Covenant Church of Philadelphia
The central figure of this parable is the younger son who places a demand upon his father for his inheritance. Yet the message of this parable reflects the heart of God towards those who are despised and looked down upon by those who feel entitled to receive God’s favor.
The younger son, out of a sense of entitlement, asked his father to give him the portion of goods that falls to him, as though he had earned it rather than inherited the goods. In doing so, he dishonored his father who was yet alive, while violating the rights of his first-born brother. His request was unjust according to the laws of his day. The inheritance should fall to him upon the passing of his father and not before. Yet the father honored his unlawful request even though he had both the right and power to refuse.
The text tells us that upon hearing the request from the younger son the father divided to his sons his livelihood. That means the father allocated the funds justly to ensure that the younger son did not take away from the double portion that his brother would receive at the appointed time. Even though the father did as asked, it is reasonable to assume that his heart was broken. It had to be painful for a loving father to watch his son, whom he nurtured and loved, rise up and demand his portion so that he could depart and go to a far country. Despite his heartbreak and pain, he gave his son what he desired, although his son’s judgment was poor, and his desire was misplaced.
The son wasted his money with an extravagant lifestyle. Then, a severe famine left him in want. The text tells us that in this low estate no one gave him anything (Luke 15:16). He got what he wanted, but he lost what he had. One lesson we can learn from the prodigal’s choices is that it is better to hold on to God’s loving and steady hand than to chase wayward desires.
The good news is that in his low estate the young man came to himself, and he realized that the servants in his father’s house lacked nothing. Yet here he was, a son who had greater standing than servants, yet he was starving. In order to ward off starvation, he wanted to eat the pods that were fed to the swine. This experience, though filled with hardship of his own making, led him to repentance.
He felt unworthy of sonship due to his guilt and shame. But as he approached home, his father saw him afar off and with acceptance dressed him in the best robe and put a ring on his finger as a witness of his restoration to sonship. The son who had placed an unjust demand upon his father was reconciled to a loving and forgiving father.
His father ordered the servants to kill the fatted calf to celebrate his son who was lost and now found; who was dead and is now alive. When the firstborn son heard the commotion, he inquired to see what was going on. Upon learning of the return of his brother, he refused to enter the celebration because he was angry. He felt unappreciated by his father because he was celebrating the one who had walked out on him, rather that the son who had been steadfast and faithful. His piety and self-righteousness blinded him and therefore he was unwilling to embrace his brother. Yet the father in his wisdom and patience reminded him that all he (the father) had was his, and that he was always with the father. He also said, “ ‘It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found’ ” (Luke 15:32). The father aided his elder son in taking the focus off himself and rightfully placing it on his brother.
Jesus was saying to the religious establishment that those whom they marginalize matter in the kingdom. It is not about them, it is about seeking and saving those who are lost!
The father wants to be reconciled with both sons. The younger son was forgiven of his misdeeds while the elder son continuously enjoyed the fruit of his labor with his father. This was due to the father who demonstrated love, mercy, and patience.
• In what ways did the father exhibit love and mercy?
• How did the first-born son perceive his father’s actions? Do you think he will go in to the feast?
• With which of the three figures in this story do you most closely identify—the father, the older son, or the younger son?