The Parable of the Lost Son (Prodigal Son)
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Observations & Reflections
In line with the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin, Jesus tells an extended parable with the same lesson in mind. However, the parable of the lost son packs more of an emotional punch. I would dare say that most Christians already know this parable well, even new Christians. It’s one of the hallmarks of our faith; that our father loves us unconditionally, even if we have sinned.
What is striking to most readers is that the prodigal son received his inheritance while the father was still healthy. In many cases in the ANE the younger son might not get an inheritance at all. A form of this is seen in the story of Jacob and Esau. However, there was another tradition in the ANE whereby the eldest son would receive the majority portion of the inheritance and the younger sons (or sons by way of concubines) would receive much smaller inheritances or gifts, while the father was still alive. It would appear that this was the case since the father admits in the end of the parable that it is the eldest brother who will inherit the whole of what the father has.
My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. (Luke 15:31)
This was also done by Abraham in Genesis 25:5-6.
Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac; but to the sons of 1his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the east. (Genesis 25:5-6)
It would appear that the son, although being ignorant and rude towards his father, was making a request that was not as far out of line as modern readers were taught to believe. However, the request is still an insult to the father and to the whole family. Moreover, it demonstrates the younger son’s immaturity and selfish way of thinking.
Never-the-less, the son finds himself in trouble once he is on his own. He comes to his senses and returns to his father. Some have wondered why the father threw the party because it was possible that the boy had not yet changed his ways but returned in selfish motives. I believe that the story might demonstrate that the party and the reaction by the father was in line with the boy’s repentance. Before the father gives a single command, the son says to him,
The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. (Luke 15:21)
It was after this statement that the father begins the feast, knowing that his son is not just returned physically but mentally and spiritually. Although, there is a possibility that the father would have done the same even if the son was not fully repentant because the love of the father is always there even if it’s not fully understood or respected by the son.
Likewise, our heavenly father is waiting for His lost children to return. We have the distinct privilege, as Christians, to assist in this process. We must not be as the Pharisees were and complain like the older son. Rather we must carry the mercy and grace of the father to all that we meet. It is easier said than done, but this is our calling.