Sermon by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 8/7/16.
Scripture text: Luke 15:11-32.
Many people know this as the “parable of the prodigal son” from the Latin prodigo meaning wasteful. Still others think of it as the “parable of the loving father.” Both represent lessons from the story.
But the main lesson that Jesus’s audience heard might have been something quite different.
To Whom Jesus Was Speaking: Jesus was speaking to the religious people of his day. For hundreds of years they had been severely persecuted by non-Jews. Thus, they created a community structure that shunned and distanced itself from Jews who left the faith and lived in sin.
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15: 1
What His Hearers Heard: As we read this story notice Jesus’ hearers would have identified themselves mostly with the faithful brother who acted with confusion and even some jealousy when the father celebrated and lavish blessings upon His wayward offspring. There’s three lessons often cited in this parable.
The first is “the lesson of the prodigal son:” that God wants his disobedient children to recognize their pitiful condition without Him and returned to Him.
The second lesson is “the lesson of the running father:” who runs to the returning son and celebrates his return … lavishing blessings upon him.
But for the majority of Jesus’ audience it was the third lesson that would strike home: “the lesson of the faithful brother” is that though you’ve been faithful and obedient for years – you are so much better off than a wayward sibling that when that sibling returns you must celebrate and run to welcome them.
Read the verse:
Luke 15:11-32 New International Version
The Parable of the Faithful Brother (or the Prodigal Son, the Lost Son, the Running Father, Loving Father)
My commentary is embedded below (designated by a vertical line).
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.
Since the time of Moses, the Jewish people had laws of inheritance meant to preserve family heritages. The son’s request was a very foolish, unbiblical and non-traditional.
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.
Running to meet someone meant hiking up your tunic and thus was considered very undignified. The greatest of the Father’s joy meant he ran without regard to what others might think.
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.’
Jewish custom said the reaction (Kenneth Bailey, The Cross & the Prodigal) would be to perform the Kezazah Ceremony. The community would break a large pot in from of the prodigal and yell, “You are now cut off from your people!” Thus, the returning prodigal would be shunned by the entire community. This created a chilling community effect and no doubt prevented many a child from lapsing into sin. But Jesus is teaching a greater lesson : that eternal life/damnation is so critical that we must overcome our customs and traditions and welcome back the repentant.
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.’”
Consider the Lesson Jesus’ Hearers Heard:
The stakes are so very high (eternity with God or without Him), so that …
- when someone returns to God we must
- focus on their eternal life that hangs in the balance
- this overcomes
- all of our jealously
- all of our desire for punitive punishment
APPLICATION: Look to ways to:
- Go to a repentant person who represents hurt, frustration or jealously … and celebrate with them.
- Ask them to dinner.
- Introduce them to your friends.
- Give them preference.
- Reach out to people who are being drawn to Christ
- Give them preference when they are drawn to your church
- Strike up a conversation with them and get to know their spiritual journey (and where they are upon it).
- Put them above yourself by celebrating they are being drawn into your fellowship.
Remember the magnitude of a life that has been spared… and celebrate!
For more insights see:
- Kenneth Bailey’s The Cross & the Prodigal,
- Amy-Jill Levine, A parable and its baggage: What the Prodigal Son story doesn’t mean,” Christian Century Magazine, Aug 25, 2014, retrieved from http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2014-08/parable-and-its-baggage also see Amy-Jill Levine’s book Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, HarperOne 2014, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
- The life of Jesus six-DVD series, “Deeper Connections,” edited by Talbot School of Theology professor Matt Williams.
- Biola Magazine article: http://magazine.biola.edu/article/10-summer/the-prodigal-sons-father-shouldnt-have-run/
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