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The Prodigal Son

The parable of the Prodigal Son is found in Luke 15:11-32.

Listeners’ Context

  • Honor and shame were significant motivators in the culture.
  • Individuals were expected to protect their own honor and their family’s honor.
  • We cannot understand the impact this parable had on the people without appreciating this reality.

The Scandal of the Younger Son

  • The younger son’s demand is shameful.
    • It is disrespectful to the father.
      • The estate belonged to the father until he died.
      • The younger son is saying, “You’re dead to me.”
    • It is disrespectful to the older brother.
      • The older brother was first in line.
      • The younger brother was usurping the older brother.
  • Anyone listening would expect the father to act to preserve his honor.
    • He should have rebuked his son, likely by slapping him.
    • He should have punished him, likely with a public beating.
  • Instead the father honored his demand and divided his property.
    • He sacrificed his honor (and 1/3 of his estate) for his disrespectful son.
  • Jesus’ listeners would have been more offended by the father than by the son.
  • The older son was negligent in:
    • His duty to protect the father’s honor.
    • His duty to guide his younger brother.
  • Gathered (v13) implies that he converted his share into cash.
    • To do so in “Not many days” means he sold at a discount.
    • His traded his (and the family’s) future for instant gratification.
  • He sacrificed his father’s honor for the brief and empty pleasure of reckless living.
  • Soon his sin began to catch up with him.
    • The famine wasn’t his fault.
    • But it was his fault that he had squandered everything.
    • And it was his fault that he had abandoned his family.
  • He tried to escape the consequence of his sin.
  • Hired himself out (v15) really means “attached himself to.”
    • He was looking for a benefactor more than an employer.
    • But his would-be meal-ticket sent him to feed pigs.
  • He hit rock bottom in a field competing with pigs for food.

The Younger Son Wakes Up

  • He recognized the goodness of his father.
    • The hired servants (v17) were the least of those who worked for his father.
    • Hired servants never had more than enough bread — but his father’s hired servants did.
  • He acknowledged that he had sinned.
  • He prepared to accept responsibility for his sin.

The Father’s Response

  • When he saw him a long way off, the father ran to meet him.
    • It was beneath the dignity of a Jewish man to run in any circumstance.
    • It would have been especially shameful to run in this situation.
    • The father knew the abuse that would be heaped on the son in the village.
    • He chose to take the shame himself rather than let the son endure it.
  • The father embraced and kissed the son.
    • Before the son had a chance to repent (to the father), the father forgave him.
    • The father’s actions showed unequivocally that he had been restored as a son.
  • He repented, but he did not ask to be made a hired servant.
    • That would have insulted the father.
    • The father had already made him a son
  • The father’s instructions to the servants are significant:
    • The best robe: a robe used by the father during important occasions.
    • A ring: a ring with a seal that symbolized authority.
    • Shoes: shoes represented dignity.
    • The fattened calf: wealthy families kept one calf for the best celebration (often the oldest son’s wedding).
    • The father gave the younger son:
      • Honor
      • Authority
      • Privilege
      • He considered the younger son’s return his greatest joy.

The Older Son’s Rebellion

  • The older son was just as distant from his father as the younger.
  • On hearing of the fattened calf, the he was angry.
  • He was disrespectful to his father: “Look . . .” he said (v29).
  • He coveted his father’s possessions (and felt entitled) just as much as his younger brother did.
  • The only difference between the sons (before the younger one repented) was in their methodology.

The Conclusion

  • The father in the parable represents Jesus.
  • The younger son represents the “worst” sinners.
    • Tax collectors and prostitutes
    • Gentiles
  • The older son represents the self-righteous.
    • Religious church goers
    • Jews

How does the story end?