Summary: This message is a exposition of the Parable of the Prodigal. The message demonstrates how rich the parable is and how the Middle Eastern context adds to our understanding of the meaning and application of the three main characters of the parable.
The Parable of the Lost Sons
Luke 15: 11-32
Introduction – Going to Cyprus for an extended stay of 3 months when I was 3yrs old back in 1963, I experienced village life that plunged me into a context that in some ways probably resembled something of the village setting of the parable of the Prodigal Son. The included the family context, the community context, the place of honour and shame and cultural practices.
Context of the parable - the original audience; one of a series of 3 parables; liet wort (repeated words indicating significance) - lost, found; the main characters in the narrative of the parable.
The following material of this message is from Kenneth Bailey’s book, The Cross and the Prodigal, (IVP 2005). The major point divisions are mine.
This message is divided into the following:
1. Death Wish & Division Lk 15:11-12
2. Departure, Depravity & Determination Lk 15:13-19
3. Deliverance & Declaration Lk 15:20-24
4. Defiance & Discretion Lk 15: 25-32
1. Death Wish & Division Lk 15:11-12
The Younger Son:
i. The request was mutiny/rebellion – impatient for his father to die
ii. Driven by self-centred pride
iii. A relationship is broken - not a law Deut 21:17 – the father’s heart broken
iv. Doesn’t care how much others in the family will suffer
v. He is ungrateful
vi. There is no trust
vii. He demands privilege without responsibility-wants substance not inheritance
viii. Cuts himself off from his roots & breaks fellowship with his father
ix. Refuse to share in partnership with the father
x. He is totally responsible
(See Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal, 42-44)
The Older Son:
i. He knows the entire story
ii. He refuses to be mediator
iii. Silent refusal –a selfishness
iv. The departure he is still silent
(See Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal, 44-46)
i. Normal response – refusal & punishment
ii. He grants freedom even to turn away from him – God grants us freedom even to reject his love
iii. He does not severe the relationship with his son – the son breaks it
iv. This image of God is not patriarchal – this is the model of God
(See Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal, 47)
We see the from the parable at the outset each reveal their own character –
We know the Younger Son by what he asks
We know the Father by what He does
We know the Older Son by what he does not do
2. Departure, Depravity and Determination Lk 15:13-19
V13. A speedy departure –
Liquidates the assets quickly – ‘got together all he had’ in the Gk means ‘turned into cash’ (synagagon panta).
‘set off for a distant country’ Gk apedemensen means he travelled away from his own people – to the Gentiles.
‘squandered his wealth’ dieskorpisen literally scattered
Extravagant living – spendthrift
(See Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal, 52-54)
V14 ‘spent’ is the Gk word for squander In the midst of deep trouble the young man will not return. He becomes his own worst enemy. Return meant acknowledging a host of things: immaturity, irresponsibility, dependence on others, thought of others, humiliation and more.
V15 He clung himself to a wealthy citizen the Gk word ‘joined’ is the word ‘glued’. This would have been the most humiliating situation. The citizen in all probability didn’t want this ‘hanger-on’. And so he gives the young man the task of ‘feeding the pigs’. This adds to the descent of the young man. His social identity, his personal identity and his spiritual identity all plummet. Yet the young man will allow this rather than turning back home.
V16 The young man would ‘desired’ Greek – ‘lusted – craving’ - a strong term. Not only did he work with pigs he fell to such an extent he wished to be a pig. Sin starts with association and leads to assimilation. The web of sin is strong and sticky – we will allow ourselves to hold onto what holds us. It is a path of bondage, of captivity and what we once despise we eventually become. His despair reached a new depth.
(See Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal, 54-58)
VV17-19. There was one major obstacle in the way of a simple return home. The fact that the young man had lost his wealth meant that he would be subject to the Kezazah ceremony of the village. This ceremony literally meant ‘cutting off’ – if a member of the community lost their wealth amongst the Gentiles a clay pot was broken publicly in front of them with the statement ‘so-and-so is cut off from his people’. Restoration to his family and village was only possible if he could pay back the money he had lost.
When we read ‘he came to himself’ some interpret this as the young man repenting. But the expression does not contain this aspect. The young man had reached a point of despair that he realised he could do better. He devised a scheme. He came up with a humble speech and a solution. ‘Make me like one of your hired men’. The young man sees the problem being the lost money not the broken relationship. If he was a hired servant he would pay back the debt and will eventually become a free agent again.