Summary: We don’t want to take God’s forgiveness for granted. Rather, we should be blown away by God’s grace, overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude that permeates all that we are, all that we do. And we should give this grace freely to others in forgiveness.
The Prodigal God
When people make mistakes, they should be punished for them! After all, they’ve brought it on themselves! And if we don’t look out after ourselves, who will? It’s a cutthroat world out there. Every person for themselves. And truth be told, it feels good to nurse that grudge. It makes me feel superior, better than that other person.
The only problem is, Jesus calls me to a better way. The first couple of verses of Luke chapter 15 set up today’s story: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” You can hear the disdain dripping from their words. “How good can he be? After all, he hangs out with sinners!”
So to show a better way, Jesus shares a parable—an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Actually he tells three parables, one about a lost sheep, one about a lost coin, and today’s story about a lost son.
This is hands down my favorite parable in the Bible, so much so that I used it in my dissertation. You know that one dangerous question, right? “What was your dissertation on?” You could be there for hours, maybe even days! So please forgive the three-hour sermon today!
The Parable of the Lost Son is like a play. It takes place in three acts and features three major characters: a father and his two sons. In the first act, the younger of the two boys comes to his father and says, “Dad, I’d like my share of the inheritance now, before you die.” Now back in Jesus’ time, this would be just as rude as it would be today. It’s basically saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead.”
When my mother came to live with us for a year, she used to say things like, “You would be better off without me. You could have your inheritance now.” And I would patiently say, “Mom, we don’t want your money. We want you, for as long as we can have you. You are worth more to us than your money.” Well, the younger son in today’s story is saying the opposite: “Your money is worth more to me than you.”
The father gives him the money. We don’t know why. Maybe the father realizes the boy will only learn through the school of hard knocks. Anyway, the son takes the money and runs off to the far country where verse 13 says he squanders his wealth in wild living. Afterwards, there is a severe famine, and of course he has no savings to live on, so he goes to work in the most unclean place for a Jew: a pig farm. He gets so hungry that he starts daydreaming of eating the pigs’ food. In AA language he has hit rock bottom.
Verse 17 is the pivotal point for the son as he “comes to his senses.” He realizes his father’s hired hands live better than him. So he prepares a speech to humble himself before his father and request employment, knowing he is no longer worthy to be considered his father’s son.