11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up 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 like one of your hired hands.” 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then 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 slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
HOPE AND GRACE
Jesus’ story of the two lost sons is amongst the greatest of all stories. It is one of the most vivid pictures of the extraordinary riches of God’s grace towards men and women.
One way or another all of us want to enjoy and benefit from the good things of life while keeping God at a distance. This is true of both of the sons in the story that Jesus told here.
By asking his father for his inheritance now, the younger son makes an outrageous request: it is as though he was saying to his father, ‘Dad, I wish you were dead’. His request and his later actions reveal that he has no interest in his father or any sense of responsibility towards him. Yet the father shows extraordinary generosity.
As the story unfolds, the younger son squanders his inheritance on extravagant parties with good-time friends. Inevitably, he finds himself without money to live and without friends to call upon. In desperation he takes a poorly paid position feeding pigs. This is a twist that emphasizes the extent of the young man’s poverty. He, a Jewish man, under the laws of kashrut, for whom pigs were not clean food, could only find work feeding pigs.
Resolving to return to his father he was willing to admit responsibility for having lost the money: “I have sinned before heaven and before you…” In asking his father take him back as a ‘hired servant’, he reveals his sense of unworthiness (15:22). He didn’t even feel worthy to be re-instated as a son.
However he had not understood the nature of his Father’s love.
Grace. The father did the totally unexpected. Like most fathers, he was aware what his son’s character was, and had no doubt what he had done, but he still loved him. He had been watching for his son’s return. When word came that his son indeed was coming home, he ran down the road to greet him. He was heedless of the scorn he would receive, for in running he was making a public spectacle of himself. A man in his position would always walk with dignity. Not only that, he was running to embrace the black sheep of the family who had formerly rejected him.
When he reached his son he threw his arms around him and kissed him. Overcome by this totally unexpected welcome, he said, ‘Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ Period.
Repentance. The son had planned to add, ‘Treat me as one of your hired servants’. But now he saw that this was not appropriate. He realized that he’d never really known his father and that he had not understood what it was to have been his father’s son. His father loved him beyond measure. He saw that now. His father was prepared to do for him what he had not expected and certainly did not deserve. His father had given himself publicly, humiliatingly, for his sake.
Jesus wanted his hearers, and each one of us, to understand that the father is like God. God has given most of us many good things to enjoy. But we, like the son, have become so preoccupied with the good things of life and our own lives in general, that we forget God. Jesus wants us to see clearly and without a shadow of doubt that God loves each one of us, far more than we can ever believe. Our problem is that we become too absorbed in our own affairs.
With this parable, Jesus foreshadows another and far greater dimension and expression of God’s extraordinary love. The shadow of his cross begins to emerge. It is in and through the cross we see the greatest act of public humiliation anyone has ever demonstrated in history, for there, God in Jesus Christ stepped into our shoes and died in our place.
But the story does not stop there. Before the younger son could catch his breath, his father was busy ordering new clothes, shoes and a ring – the best of everything. An elaborate and expensive feast was prepared and the father tells us why: “For this my son was dead, now he is alive, he was lost but now he has been found” (15:24). The wayward, rebellious boy who deserved nothing good from his father was to be reinstated as a son. In Luke 19:10 we Jesus’ words about himself and his mission: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost”. The younger son had not just regretted his folly, but in turning back to his father and admitting his failure, he had been truly repentant. Through his father’s extraordinary and undeserved love, he is reinstated as a ‘son’. He sees that to serve as a ‘hired slave,’ to try to work his way back in to his father’s good graces, was both impossible and unnecessary.
You may want to consider:
- the lessons to be learnt from the younger son;
- the implications of the extraordinary grace of God in your life.
Let me encourage you to pray:
© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.
- Comments on the text of The Gospel of Luke are adapted from, John G. Mason, Luke: An Unexpected God, Aquila: 2012 ↩