Summary: Being an Authentic Follower of Jesus: The Prodigal Father

Being an Authentic Follower of Jesus:

The Prodigal Father

Luke 15:11-32

August 23, 2009

Merriam-Webster online Dictionary defines ‘prodigal’ as, 1: characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure: lavish ; and 2: recklessly spendthrift . Synonyms would be profuse, lavish, or extravagant. In this parable Jesus is defending himself against the Pharisees for his practice of freely and gladly accepting sinners and tax collectors (vs. 1-2). The parable reveals the heart of God the Father and at the same time exposes the heart of the Pharisees. The central figure of the story is really the prodigal father who lavishly extends grace and mercy toward both sons who disgrace and humiliate him. Jesus shows us that both sons are alienated from God and both are seeking God’s acceptance in different ways. The latter being far more deadly and deceptive.

1. The Younger Son

The younger son, probably in his late teens, requests his inheritance from his father. This is an insult because he essentially wishes his father dead and wants to sever their relationship. The first word for property here means wealth as in an estate; the second literally means life. To comply with the request required the father to liquidate assets, land and livestock to give the son his share (1/3; Deut 21:17). This would be devastating to the father. For a Jew, the land was everything. Each tribe was given a share of the Promised Land; Jews fought over their land. To sell your land was to lose part of your life, your identity, and your standing in the community. The son is causing agony and shame to the father. What do most of us do when others hurt us or reject our love? We tend to lash back yet the Father honors his request, maintaining his affection for the son, bearing the agony of his rejection. The younger son quickly sells his inheritance for cash, leaves and squanders his wealth through undisciplined, wild living. Not only that but when he is broke a famine arose in the land. Some disasters are of our own devices; others are not. The result is that he is forced to do the unthinkable for a Jew; he must work for an unclean Gentile caring for unclean animals. Worse yet he has no food and the pigs food is not adequate for human consumption. He has gone from nobility to nothing with no one; by selling and wasting his inheritance, he has lost everything. That is the fruit of sin. Sin seeks to enslave us, suck us dry and in worse cases causes us to loose our humanity and we become like that which enslaves us. It promises us everything and gives us nothing. Seeking to live free from moral constraints we become enslaved to that which we believe will give us freedom. At this point, the younger son comes to his senses. He sees how much better off he would be as one of his father’s hired hands. So he comes up with a plan. He will repent of his actions and seek to serve his father. In his eyes, he has lost his sonship and so he seeks employment, which is a lesser status than a slave, so that he can attempt to repay his father and restore himself to his father. But he does not come back brazen and confident; it is tentative at best. He was expecting rejection from both his family and his community. Any Jew who lost his money to foreigners faced the Kezazah (literally “the cutting off”), banishment from the community.

Yet the Father does the unthinkable. He initiates this reconciliation when he sees his son coming. He lifts up his robe and runs to the son, hugging and kissing him. The son is flummoxed, as the father will not let him finish his confession and even contradicts it. The father was the one who did the restoring, not the son: the father put shoes on him (sons, not slaves, wore shoes); the father put his best robe on him; and the father put the ring on his finger (a signet ring would give him the power to transact business). The son is fully accepted and welcomed back into the family in good standing (i.e. Joseph, Gen 41:42; Mordecai, Esth. 6:6-11). It is at this point the son finally sees his father’s visible, costly love for him.

Then the father tells his servants to kill and cook the fattened calf because they are going to celebrate. You need to know that meat was a delicacy and not commonly eaten, even among the wealthy. The fattened calf was reserved for special occasions, usually for a sacrifice at the temple. This is no ordinary welcome home party; this is the bash of all bashes because this son who was considered dead has been resurrected; was lost and now is found. He has been restored to life, to family, and to community.

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