The prodigal son is an amazing parable. I have done several studies on it before. Still, I have come to the conclusion that I have a lot I can learn from this amazing spiritual lesson in story form. If we ever end up getting bored by the Scriptures, we need to take a step back and ask God to refresh our minds and our hearts to read the Scriptures afresh. So, with that in mind, I am going to look again at a familiar passage and learn something new. If you would like to follow along, open your Bibles to Luke 15: 11-32.
The story is simple enough. A man has two sons. The younger son tells the father that he wants his inheritance. The father gives what is his and the son runs off to do whatever he wants. After losing everything, the son is forced to work on a pig farm and almost eats pig slop because he is so hungry. He then realizes that those who work for his father eat a lot better than he was eating. So he goes back to his father. The father runs out, the son repents and the father clothes him and throws a party for him. The older son comes back to the house and finds out that the younger son has returned. The older son gets mad and won’t go in to dine with everyone. The Father comes out and speaks to the older son and tells him a few lessons about life and then says that they must celebrate because his brother has returned. That’s the basics of the story. Here are a few things I have learned that enhance this story a little more.
The younger son treats the father as though he has died. You would not get your inheritance unless your father has passed away. This is one of the most disrespectful things a son could ask of his father. For whatever reason we are not told, the father gives the younger son his inheritance. The son goes off with what he has and begins to live the high life. The younger son moves to a country far away and ends up spending everything he has. We do not know how much money the son lost but we do know that it only took a couple of days for the son to lost everything. We can only infer that a manner of gambling and high-risk adventures was explored in the son’s spending. Partying also must be considered apart of the son’s downward spiral.
If losing money were not such a big deal, there is a famine that comes to this land. We in America do not understand what a famine is. Not eating for 4 hours is not a famine. Think having no food for weeks upon weeks. Think not knowing how you will make it another day. Think about going through the trashcans, wondering if you can find a moldy banana or a leftover piece of pizza and eating it as if it was a fresh piece of stake. Think about walking around, seeing people who have lost so much weight, their ribs are showing. If you need a better picture of what a famine looks like, turn on your TV and watch a Compassion International commercial or type in famine into a google search and look at the pictures they have. Let that be engrained in your mind. The younger son was so desperate for food; he took an odd job as a servant in a Gentile’s farm.
The term used here in the Greek denotes being hired out. There is no doubt that this job didn’t pay much but this son was willing to become a hired servant. What I did not know though is that the term “hired” carries a negative connotation. It is a derogatory statement. You were never “hired.” You were called upon to do a job. No one was ever hired though. When the younger son says, “Even my father’s hired servants eat better than me,” the son is using the same derogatory statement of his father’s servants. This is a cultural thing that we do not understand but is something that adds to this story.
The son offered to feed pigs for a citizen in that country. In today’s understanding, that is like a man who comes up to your car to wash your windows while you are waiting for a red light to turn green. You didn’t ask for the man to do anything for you but he does anyway. He is desperate for money and “offers to do you a favor” in hopes of receiving some form of money for his “hard work.” In this connotation, the younger son is essentially doing the same thing. Since there is a famine, I highly doubt this citizen really wants another person to pay. The son convinces him though and is sent out to feed pigs. This certainly would have defiled the son – this shows how desperate the son was and how much in need he really was. Since there was a famine, people couldn’t afford to give the son anything if he begged. He was essentially an outcast with no money, no real job, no friends, and no hope of seeing things in a positive light.
The story then says that the son “came to his senses.” I wonder how many of us need to come to our senses. Do we really even realize how good we have it? I doubt it at times. It took this son a while to get his act together. We need to be willing to do the same. For our sake, we need to come to our senses and realize our current condition and ask ourselves the kind of questions the son asks himself.
So the son decides that he is going to go back to his father and repent for his actions. What does he have to lose? The son has nothing. We learn that he has lost almost everything but the very clothes off his back. We learn later that he does not possess shoes. There is a significance to that we will bring up later. The point I am making here is that he has nothing. Going back to the father and repenting is the only option he has left. He considers all the responses the father will give and walks back to the father. That must have been one of the hardest walks for him. How do you ask forgiveness to someone you treated as a dead person? The son reasons with himself that he could be a slave for his father and at least have a place to sleep and money. The son never considers the option of being a son again though. He believes he could never be forgiven for his actions.
When the son is in the middle of the town, the father sees the son and begins to run after the son. Perhaps the father heard people yelling at the son, saying things like, “How could you treat your father this way?” The father runs out to the son. Let me write that again because I think you missed it. The father runs out to the son. This would require the father to lift up his robe and expose his undersides to anyone who saw the father. This would disgrace the father. A reasonable man would never do this kind of action – period. The father does though and takes the son and begins to plant kisses on his cheeks over and over again. The son is dirty and filthy yet the father kisses the son over and over again.
The son has enough courage to speak to his father and asks for forgiveness. The son doesn’t even ask to be a hired servant, most likely because he is so filled with despair. The son’s demeanor is not uncommon of what you and I would consider to be normal. We would see ourselves in the same way if we had treated our father that way.
The father calls on a servant to get his best robe (signifying that he has several of all different degrees of value), a pair of sandals and a ring for his hand. What the father is doing is something very unique and something the son was not expecting. The father was reconciling the son. Wearing a robe meant that you were someone important – a master. The ring signifies that you have power and authority over slaves and would have been used in important documents while the sandals meant that he was not a slave but a son. I never realized the significance of the sandals before but I have come to learn that if you did not wear sandals, you were a slave. If you had sandals, you were not. What amazes me is that the father does not tell the son to wash up first then have the clothes put on him. It is done right away. Underneath these expensive garments, the dirty clothing of the son remains on him. The symbolism of this could not be any clearer. Even though the son knows how dirty and disgusting he really is, the father clothes him with new garments so that he is seen as clean. Finally, regarding this issue, we must not forget something very important. The best robe, these sandals, and this ring are the property of the older son. This is what the older son is supposed to have as his inheritance when his father dies. We will see how this ends up creating a huge issue in a few moments.
The father then decides to throw a party and kill a cave for the son. The father invites a ton of friends and everything is a go. In walks the older son. He had just been out in the field overseeing the workers who worked the field and heard a commotion going on in the house. There was music and people dancing. What was going on? The older son asks a young boy what had happened and the boy tells the older brother that his younger brother has come back and they are throwing a party for him! The older son is pissed off and refuses to go into the house.
There is a tradition in Eastern cultures that we do not have in our current culture. When a father throws a party, the older son serves the honored guests of the party as an act of thankfulness for their arrival and fellowship. It was the oldest son’s responsibility to administer and serve these honored guests as an act of respect to the father. The only problem was the honored guest of the party was his younger bother! There was no way the older son was going to serve his younger brother after he had learned what had happened.
The father comes out of the house and pleads with the son to come in and join the party. The son refuses. If the older son does not come in and serve the honored guest, the father is disgraced once again not by the younger son but now by the older one. The father, in his love rather than his anger allows the son to make his case.
The older son said, “I have worked for you so many years and have never disobeyed you.” Perhaps this was true. Perhaps the older son did whatever his father asked. The older son did not work, as I have already mentioned like a servant but as an overseer of the servants. He probably sat under a tree and relaxed while the workers did their jobs.
The son then makes a significant statement in which we run over time and time again. The older son states, “This son of yours…” The older son dismisses the younger brother’s existence. They are not family in his mind. Since the younger son has left, the older son sees him as a dead brother. So the son throws his words at his father. If the father wants him as a son, that is up to him. The brother wants no part of him anymore. If you and I was the older son, we might well understand the older son’s anger. What the older son didn’t understand though was the aspect of grace the father was showing the younger son. The older son has been trying to win the father over by all the work he had been doing. In my final concluding remarks, I will come back to this thought. For now though, I will continue.
The father rebuttals the son’s statement by saying, “This brother of yours.” The father, in his love attempts to soften the older brother’s heart towards his brother. The father says that everything the father has is his and always has been. They needed to rejoice though because his younger brother has been restored after being lost and dead. Symbolically, the father saw his son as ending up dead and lost forever. Now that the son was there, he is reunited into his family and is seen as alive and found in the father’s eyes. This is extreme grace.
There is where my final thoughts will occur. The younger son runs off with his inheritance. This is a defiant action and rebellion. This is something we understand. We were rebellious towards God and attempted to live on our own and make things work out. We ultimately fail though and lose everything we have. We come to a point where we almost break and die. Eventually, we come to our senses and realize that there has to be something more to life. We go back to the beginning and God is there, waiting for us. He clothes our dirty, sinful bodies with His shed blood for us. When we are truly repentant, God clothes us with His goodness, mercy and love. He reestablishes us as His children and gives us authority and power. It is not by works we are saved or please God but we are loved because God is truly merciful. No matter how much we have run from God, and no matter what we have done, when we are repentant, and God takes us back. We are not seen as His slaves but His children. It is so amazing to me how much, like the father in this story, God runs after us and embraces us even when we are far off. He does not wait until we are at the beginning. He runs to us as soon as He sees us. That is the most beautiful aspect of grace.
I don’t know where you all are at with regards to God. I don’t know if you are in a rebellious state or if you are on your way back to Him. What I do know is that with out God, we are dying in a famine of disgrace. I hope this study has been encouraging for you as it has been encouraging for me to write it. God bless you all.