The parable of the Prodigal Son is found in Luke 15:11-32.
- 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.
- It is disrespectful to the father.
- 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:
- 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 father in the parable represents Jesus.
- The younger son represents the “worst” sinners.
- Tax collectors and prostitutes
- The older son represents the self-righteous.
- Religious church goers
How does the story end?