Friday, October 30, 2015

The Parable of the Lost Son

The Parable of the Lost Son

LUKE 15: 11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons; 12 and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. 15 So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger!18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet;23 and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; 24 for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry. 25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

My Thoughts

Like the previous two parables, this parable is about losing something extremely valuable - a child! There's a progression of value in these three parables. The poor shepherd loses 1 of his 100 sheep (1/100, 1%, or 1:99). The poor housewife loses 1 of her 10 wedding coins (1/10, 10%, or 1:9). Here a wealthy father loses 1 of his 2 sons (1/2, 50%, or 1:1).

In the culture of Jesus day, for a shepherd to lose 1 of his 100 sheep was disappointing but understandable as sheep tend to go astray; for a poor housewife to lose 1 of her 10 wedding coins was more disappointing but still understandable as we all lose stuff on occation; but for a wealthy and prominent father to lose 1 of his 2 sons would have brought shame and disgrace on his family for generations to come!

The illustration below shows the relationship of these three parables and the progression of value.  

Normally (even to this day), children don't inherit their parent's wealth until their parents pass away. And in Jesus' day, it was usually the first born son who'd inherit the parent's wealth. In this case, it was the younger son who'd asked for his inheritance even though he wasn't entitled to one. 

Can you imagine the gaul of this ungrateful son who goes to his father and essentially says, "Father, I just can't wait for you to die. So give me my inheritance now so that I can get out on my own?" Well the father still has to support himself and his other son, his oldest son is the rightful heir, plus he still has a business to run with hired servants. Given this, his prodigal younger son only asks for half his father's wealth (very reasonable)!

As a parent, if one of my children were to do that to me, I'd have some pretty choice words to say to them, plus I'd probably disinherit them completely! But in the case of this father he's different from the norm. In fact, the father in this parable is God. God gives us free-will. If we no longer want to live at home but get out on our own and do our own thing he's not going to stand in our way. God loves us enough to let us make our own mistakes and learn the hard way.

The prodigal son in this parable represents each of us. We were the one sheep that went astray; we were the one coin that was lost; and we were the rebellious child that left home and squandered our inheritance.

The father in this parable not only lets his son leave home with his inheritance, but he also welcomes him back home with open arms after he's squandered his inheritance and repents.  And then he restores him to his previous status as his son and throws a huge party for him to welcome him back. Absolutely incredible!

There's so many layers of meaning in each of these parables that only with the proper theological credentials could one decipher them. Consider the following: the parable of the lost son could allude to the fall of man in the garden of eden where we initially lost our inheritance; the parable of the lost coin could also allude to a lost wedding ring, the symbol of a covenant relationship with God; the parable of the lost sheep could allude to the first passover lamb or to the lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world (see Psalms 23).

From my point of view, all these parables illustrate God's incredible love for us (lost mankind) and the ends He will go to save each of us.  

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