We’re closing our series on Lost Things today by looking at the final part of the parable Jesus tells in response to the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttering and complaining that Jesus was eating and drinking and sharing life with the sinners and the tax collectors of the day.
The final part of this parable is the parable of the prodigal son - everyone knows it as that, but I don’t like that name - because it’s too narrow in its focus.
I’ve called it the ‘lost sons’, but even then that’s too narrow a focus - it could be better labelled, ‘the loving father’.
Because in this part of the parable, Jesus has crafted an amazing story about 2 sons and their father. And there is SO much within this parable, culturally, in the way it’s told and so much more that it would take a few weeks to unpack it all…months maybe.
But since we only have 1 week - well, 1 sermon - we’re not going to scratch the surface.
And my biggest problem is what to leave out and what to include… And I’m taking a punt that you’ve heard this story before - who hasn’t? But what version have you heard?
Am I going to cover old ground here?
The good thing about this parable is that it’s so well known, so while we read it earlier, you could probably recite it back to me right now.
And so, we’re going to take this story like a well crafted movie or play. We’re not going to look at it in order because that’s what you’ve heard time and time again. And because I’m confident you know the story well enough, we’re going to mix it up a little.
So, to avoid telling the same story for the 100th time, what I’ve decided to do is to look at the two sons together. We’re going to line them up and interrogate them - not one by one, but at the same time. And at the same time we’re going to look at the Father’s response to the two sons.
Jesus has played a blinder here - there’s a twist in this parable along the lines of a blockbuster movie. And Jesus doesn’t even finish the parable, but I’ve no time to go into all that...
Jesus tells this story in two Acts. Act 1 is the younger son, Act 2 is the older son. We’re going to look at both acts in parallel.
Scene 1 - The Disgrace of the Father
What we have here are two sons - the youngest son asks for his inheritance while the father is still alive. In other words, he’s saying to his father - you’re only good for your money. I don’t want a relationship with you. In fact, hurry up and die so I can get your inheritance. In fact, give it to me now - I wish you were dead.
And in this culture, the Father is disgraced. To do this would be suicide. The younger son should be beaten and driven out of the home and out of the village. At a time like this there would be a cutting-off ceremony by the village where the son is pretty much kicked out of the village for his disgraceful act.
So the father is disgraced.
The older son when he comes home from the field, hears the music and dancing and the celebration because the young son has been found. He finds out that it’s because his brother has come home and he is furious and refuses to go into the party.
This in itself would be a disgrace, because, culturally, the eldest son would be the host of the party while the landowner sat with the important people and ate and drank. By NOT going into the party, the older son is disgracing his father.
But not just that, when his father comes out to plead with him to come in, the older son lets out a barrage of abuse to the father...
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. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
He doesn’t use his title - he says, ‘LOOK’
He considers himself a slave of the father rather than a son ‘All these years I have slaved for you’
He disowns himself from the family ‘this son of YOURS’
He exaggerates the truth - ‘your son has spent your money on prostitutes’
He would rather have a part with his friends than be part of this family celebration ‘you never gave me a kid so that I could make merry with my friends’.
In other words, the son was saying to his father, “I don’t want to be part of this family. Even though all you have is mine you are still holding the reigns because you won’t give me a kid to have a party outside of this family. I wish you weren’t around so that I could have fun and rejoice with my friends cos I don’t want to be part of THIS family.”
Once again the father is disgraced.
So both sons have disgraced their father.
Scene 2 - The Awareness of Repentance
So, both sons have disgraced their father. But part of this story, when you add in the conclusions for the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin is the act of repentance.
The younger son comes to an awareness of his need for repentance when he hits rock bottom. His money has run out, there’s a famine, he’s working for a gentile, he’s feeding pigs - in fact, the pigs are eating better than him.
And as you know, Jews and pigs don’t get on - working with pigs would have meant that his morals were thrown out the window. He was breaking the commandment not to touch pigs, he wouldn’t have been able to observe the Sabbath - he was far from GOD and far from home.
He had hit rock bottom - and it’s because he has hit rock bottom that he comes to his senses.
But here’s the thing - he only partially repented. He knew he had sinned, but by planning to become a hired servant, the son was trying to pay for his mistakes.
“Let me work for you and I’ll pay it back.”
The older son…we don’t know if he repents, but one thing is for sure - he isn’t aware that he has done ANYTHING wrong. He hasn’t come to his sense. He even said himself...
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.
I’ve never disobeyed your orders. I’ve never broken your commands. I’ve never done anything wrong.
But this older son had broken one of the greatest commandments - he had failed to love his brother.
But because he was at home and hadn’t squandered his share of the inheritance, and because he hadn’t ‘broken any of the commandments’ he wasn’t aware that he needed to repent. He hadn’t come to his senses.
He was far away from home right in his home.
So the younger son had hit rock bottom and had come to his senses. The older son was always at home and in comfort and didn’t realise that he had sinned against his father too.
Scene 3 - The Humiliation of Love
Now let’s look at what the father does in both cases...
For the younger son, the father grants his request. He gives the younger son his share of the inheritance…but he ALSO gives the older son HIS share of the inheritance...
And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.
So BOTH sons have their share. It’s not just the younger son that gets his share.
But by withholding punishment - by not cutting the son off from the family and from the village, the father is humiliating himself. The father has disgraced himself by this act of generosity.
And when the son comes back home the father runs to him, which by virtue of his status, a man of this importance would never do, because it is unbecoming. It’s like watching the Queen run - you’d never see it, because it’s unbecoming.
But the father runs to the son to stand between the son and the village. Because coming into a village after what the younger son did would be suicide. The father had to get to the son to stand between his son and the mob waiting to lynch him - as if to say, ‘I forgive him, so should you.’
But to get to the son first, the father had to humiliate himself by running.
And the father’s love keeps on flowing...
The younger son gets the best robe - which would be the FATHER’S robe. He would be clothed in the robe of the father. The ring would be a sense of importance and the sandals prove to everyone that this boy is NOT a slave or a hired servant - he is a FREE MAN within his father’s house, because slaves didn’t wear sandals.
This young son had been restored into the family against all odds - this was unexpected. No father would do this. This type of love was reckless, humiliating and darn right uncalled for.
For the older son, the father leaves the party and allows the older son to pour out this barrage of abuse on him in public - in full view of the guests. And the father doesn’t punish the son for this.
This is an act of humiliation on the part of the father. The listeners would expect some kind of punishment, but the father simply pleads for the older son to be happy and rejoice because his brother was lost and is now found.
So the father loves his sons so much that he is willing to humiliate himself in order to show his love.
Scene 4 - The Response to Love
So the younger son has a speech all prepared - I’m not worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired men.
It was only when the younger son had experienced the father’s love that he saw what repentance really was.
And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
That’s not the full speech that the younger son had planned. There’s no mention of the hired servant.
And some think that the father interrupted him. One of the commentators that I’ve relied heavily upon in the research of this, Kenneth Bailey, doesn’t think so.
The father hasn’t interrupted the son - the son has seen the costly, humiliating way the father has ran to the son to stand between him and the punishment awaiting him from the village.
He has seen the reckless outrageous love that the father has for him that all he can say is, “I DON’T DESERVE THIS!”
The older son…well, here’s the twist at the end of the story - because the story doesn’t end. I’ve no time to show you the way the story is laid out, but there’s a section missing on purpose - what happens after the father pleads with the son? Does he repent and enter the party or does he remain outside and never be part of the family?
This is the question that the Pharisees and teachers of the law are left to answer for themselves. And whether they realise it or not, Jesus is hinting that there are quite a few similarities between the Pharisees and the older son.
And at the end of the parable, where is the older son? Where are the 99 sheep?
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?
They’re in the wilderness - they aren’t home either. So what about the older son - is he truly home and part of the family or is he actually lost within his own house? Is he just a slave for his father (his words)?
The younger son accepts the love of the father. The older son…we’ll never know.
Scene 5 - The Restoration as ‘Son’
At the end of Act 1, there is restoration. The younger son has been restored to the family and there is rejoicing. The fatted calf would feed the whole village and that’s who would have been present at this party.
The younger son had been lost, but was now found and he wasn’t a hired servant, but he was a SON - part of the family, loved by the father despite his mistakes and failures.
But what about the older son? Well, like I’ve already said, we don’t know if the older son was restored. While the younger son was lost away from home, the older was lost within his home.
He called himself a slave of the father.
He disowned himself from the family by calling his brother, ‘this son of YOURS’
So we don’t know and we’ll never know if the older son was restored. He was living in comfort, in the homestead, but he was far from home.
Did he swallow his pride and accept his younger brother? Did he understand the fact that the father was rejoicing over his brother being found? Did he realise his own sin and accept the father’s love too?
Did he ever come home?
We’ll never know.
It’s too simple to liken the younger son with the sinners and tax collectors and the older son with the Pharisee. It’s better, as Bailey suggests, to liken the two sons to two types of people.
One type of person is sinning and ignoring Jesus and know they are and they’re doing it outside of the church. People who don’t care for God and do their own thing. People like the younger son - the prodigal son.
And maybe, for some of you here, you have your own prodigal son or daughter. And they once were at home with you, but they’ve left home and are currently nowhere with the Lord - and it breaks your heart, like I’m sure the younger son broke the father’s heart.
My message for you, today is this - don’t give up on them. Keep praying for them to come to their senses. Keep speaking into their lives and keep being a part of their lives. Don’t disown them.
Because Jesus was a part of the sinners lives - that’s why this parable was told. But he spent time with them, he loved them, he spoke into their lives - you do the same.
Cos it’s the younger sons who are blatantly away from ‘home’ that are quite possibly the very ones who will come to their senses and KNOW they they are away from home and want to come back home.
Sometimes we need to hit rock bottom before we come to our senses.
And when they do they need to know that their father, or mother will run to them and welcome them back.
The need to know that if they repent and come back to the Lord, that he will run to them and embrace them and restore that relationship. They need to know that they won’t be judged, but instead they’ll be loved and shown immeasurable grace.
So don’t give up on your prodigal son or daughter.
The other type of person are those who are sinning and ignoring Jesus but they’re doing it WITHIN the church. They are people like you and me, but people who think they’re at home, obeying the commandments, slaving for this place, doing what they think needs to be done, but actually are far away from God right within the church.
And 2 weeks ago I asked us to think about those outside the church and welcoming them in. Last week I asked us to think about welcoming those with special needs.
This week I want us to look at ourselves. Look at yourself in light of this parable and in light of what Jesus has done on the cross.
Because, like the father, Jesus humiliated himself for us...
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
And like the father recklessly ran to the son to kiss him and show him forgiveness, to stand between him and the punishment awaiting him from the lynch mob, Jesus humiliated himself by becoming obedient to death on a cross. And Jesus stood between you and the punishment awaiting you from God the Father.
And he gives us a robe - he clothes us in his righteousness - making us blameless. And he adopts us as sons. We’re no longer slaves to sin - we are sons and daughters of God.
But hang on a second, I said ‘we’…Jesus only does this for those who put their full faith and trust in him.
It’s very easy to point out the younger son as one of those type who you know are sinning and ignoring God, who are blatantly disobeying him outside the church.
But it’s a lot harder to point out people like the older son who are sitting right here among us…People who are far from home within the home. People who are far from God but right here in church. People of whom the Lord said...
“ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
And I don’t WANT us to point them out - I want YOU to examine YOURSELF and honestly ask yourself, ‘where am I?’ Am I far from home within my home? Am I a slave to the church?
OR am I a son or a daughter of the father, who has clothed me with the robe of righteousness and adopted me into his family?
Remember, the father came out and humiliated himself for both sons. He loved BOTH sons.
Seriously, today is the day of salvation. If you are far from home, come to your senses and come home. The Father is waiting for you to love you, to bless you and forgive you.
At the same time, for anyone who can identify with the younger son the call is the same…come home. No matter how low you’ve sunk, come to your senses and come home. Nobody is too lost that Jesus can’t find them!
And join the party of people who are eating bread and drinking wine together, rejoicing over what God has done, because communion has been restored and what was once lost is now found.
Don’t stay outside…come in. Come home.