Summary: Jesus told the story to reveal God’s love to saints and sinners alike
NR 17-03-07 ES
Lk 15:1-3 and 11-32
If we really want to understand the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we need to look at the context of the story. Why did Jesus tell the story?
And we find the answer to that question in the opening verses of Luke 15.
Let me read them to you:
Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such despicable people – even eating with them.
Jesus told this story because people complained who he spent time with.
For the Jew such people were beyond the pale
Why did the Jews not only dislike tax collectors but they looked down on them?
1. Because they helped the hated Romans collecting taxes – and so were seen as traitors or collaborators with the enemy.
2. Because they took more than they should of – to make themselves rich.
The other notorious sinners would be people who were
i) immoral – like prostitutes and
ii) Those who had jobs that the religious Jew considered “unclean”.
Like people who sold pork to the Greeks and Romans living in Israel at the time.
Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son to show that God loved both those whom the Jews despised – the tax collectors the immoral AS WELL AS God’s chosen people the Jews
In the Parable, the tax collectors and prostitutes - the immoral - are represented by the Prodigal Son – and the Jews themselves – the very ones who were complaining about the company that Jesus kept – the upright are represented by the elder brother
And of course the Father in the Parable is God himself.
And the first thing that strikes us is the standing of the immoral and the upright.
They are both sons of the Father!
For no one comes to God unless he comes through Jesus Christ.
Do you remember what Jesus said: I am the Way the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me (Jn 14:6)
So both sinner and saint have the same standing in God’s eyes – both are loved as much by the Father
And the key for understanding the force of the story is that the Prodigal Son repented!!
God is willing to have a relationship with anyone who turns from his wrong deeds.
Jesus told the story of the Prodigal Son to show what God’s love is for all of us – regardless of what we have done.
And the message is -no one not even the immoral are beyond redemption
The story of the Prodigal Son is so well known to us that we are liable to miss the fact that some of elements in the story were to Jesus hearers countercultural.
There would have been three elements that would have been profoundly uncomfortable to Jesus’ hearers:
1. The first shock of the parable to a Jewish audience would have been the scandal of the idea of the father agreeing to divide the inheritance BEFORE his death.
It has even been suggested that the Prodigal Son’s request would have been tantamount to telling his Father that he wished him dead.
And the father’s reaction in giving the son his inheritance was simply - contrary to conventional Jewish wisdom. You just would not do it!
In the OT apocryphal book of Sirach, we read this for example:
"To son or wife, to brother or friend, do not give power over yourself as long as you live, and do not give your property to another in case you change your mind and must ask for it…...
For it is better that your children should ask from you than you should look to the hand of your children." (Sirach 33:20 &22)
Nevertheless, in this parable the father grants the son’s request.
What a beautiful picture of God letting his children make their own mistakes – even at a cost to himself.
And we know that the cost was Jesus’ death of the Cross
2. The second shock of the parable to Jesus’ Jewish audience was the reaction of the father when he saw his prodigal coming home.
No self respecting Jewish father would have run to greet his son – let alone one who had disgraced the family by frittering away the family fortune.
That would have been too undignified for the head of the family to do that.
The father’s actions in the story broke all Middle Eastern protocol.
But - as is often the case in Jesus’ parables –
it is the twist in the story that makes the point.
The father is so pleased, so thrilled to see his prodigal son return that he literally “drapes himself on the neck of the prodigal”.