Summary: This sermon focuses on the question of “How do you find something that’s lost, especially if you’re the one that’s lost?
Finding What We’ve Lost
A couple of years ago, I was blessed to win tickets to the practice round of The Master’s golf tournament. The Masters is one of four majors in professional golf and is considered to be hallowed ground to golfers. It’s in Augusta, GA in the rolling hills and is surrounded by blooming azaleas during the tournament. Very few golfers actually get to attend the Masters without paying several 1000 dollars. I invited a golfing buddy to come with me. When we got to Mobile, he asked if I had brought our GPS. I said, I thought you were bringing it. He thought I was bringing it. He pulled out his iphone and we used that to guide us and let me tell you, it took us on every backroad and two lane hiway through AL and GA there was. At one point, we passed through a section of a town where there were rundown houses and empty storefronts. An uneasy feeling swept over me. I realized we were lost and had been for a while and we didn’t even know it.
That’s how it works in life as well. You take gradual steps and don’t think anything about it until you suddenly realize how far off path you’ve gone and you say, “Man, I’m lost” And once you realize that, a pit forms in your stomach. There’s no worse feeling than being lost. The Prodigal Son is the story of a younger son who was struggling like many young people do trying to find out of what he wanted out of life. He wanted to be happy and have purpose the same way we do. He wanted to find fulfillment the same as us. He just went about it the wrong way. What this younger son struggled with is what many of us struggle with. And if we’re honest, it’s the way that many of us have gone in our lives.
There are four things we need to know about this parable. First, parables often have a shocking element to catch the audience’s attention and that’s exactly what the father does in this story. He does the unthinkable: he divides up the property with the older son getting his 2/3 and the younger his 1/3. I want you to notice verse 12 when he says - “He divided up his livelihood.” The Greek word for livelihood is “bios” which is translated most of the time as “life.” The father didn’t have a retirement fund or stocks. All he had was his land which had been handed down through his family since the time the Jews took possession of the Holy Land and divided it up amongst the 12 tribes and its people. This land was their life. It not only provided for and sustained them but it connected them to God’s blessing and their identity as His chosen people. Why does the father divide the land up? Because it’s the only way he can leave the door open for reconciliation with his son. The other alternative was to hit him and excommunicate him from the family. So he accepts the humiliation and pain of his life being ripped apart and being unfairly judged by his community who wouldn’t have understood or approved of the way he handled this.
The Son took far less than the value of the land. Verse 13 says “not many days later” he left town with the cash.” While the younger son can gain possession of his share of the estate, according to Jewish law he has no right of disposal while his father is alive. Thus, to generate cash, the younger son can only sell the future rights to his part of the estate when his father dies. From a prospective buyer’s perspective, waiting for the father’s death significantly reduces the value of such a transaction. Therefore, the “purchase price” would have to be considerably less than it would be if the father was deceased. Hence, in order to quickly raise cash, the younger son would have had to significantly discount (lower) the purchase price to future rights of his portion of the land to “move it” quickly. This just pours salt on an already profoundly open wound. And when you consider that the buyer was likely a Gentile, or a representative for Herod’s extended family, who already controlled 68% of the land in Israel, this transaction becomes unfathomable to Jesus’ hearers.
All of this just adds to the outrageousness of Jesus’ story. Yet, this father is a picture of God, who gave His life so we could be reconciled because instead of shunning us and forcing us to pay the price for our own sins, He allowed his life to be ripped apart so we could be reconciled to Him. “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:19)