The story of the Prodigal Son is a well-known parable in the Bible. Everybody can relate to this story about a broken family relationship followed by a very bad decision. In that situation being redeemed and forgiven during a low point is a deep desire that we all have had. Let’s explore this story of undeserved redemption.
1 Then drew near to him all the publicans [tax collectors] and sinners for to hear him.
2 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receives sinners, and eats with them.
This is the context for the next three parables explained here. A parable is a fictional story for comparison to highlight a point. Jesus was eating with the despised tax collectors and sinners. The religious leaders thought “How dare he?” and complained that Jesus was hosting and eating with the sinners. In eastern culture the salt covenant was in practice when sharing a meal because salt was in the food. The salt covenant was a bond of commitment and protection to the extreme of giving your life on behalf of the other person. This covenant was taken seriously and could not be broken. Jesus was engaging in this deeply bonding salt covenant with these sinners and it offended the religious leaders. This is the context for the following parables.
3 And he spoke this parable to them, saying,
4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
7 I say to you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repents, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
This is the first parable. There is great rejoicing over one sinner that realizes he is a sinner and chooses to change directions from his sinful ways.
8 Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, does not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?
9 And when she has found it, she calls her friends and her neighbors together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.
10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.
The second parable is about a lady sinning by losing a valuable piece of an heirloom set. This was a wedding gift of great sentimental value. The friends and neighbors rejoice over her finding the silver piece because the loss could be grounds for divorce.
Now we get to third and final parable about the prodigal son. All three of these parables are related to the leaders complaining about Jesus eating with the sinners.
11 And he said, A certain man had two sons:
12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me. And he divided to them his living.
There are two sons. The inheritance was divided one portion for each son and a double portion for the oldest. That meant that the youngest son received a third of the estate.
13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
Prodigal is defined as wasteful. The prodigal son wasted his inheritance.
14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
Unplanned circumstances occurred which was not a famine but a mighty famine. This was not just a lack of food but it was widespread and over an extended period.
15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave to him.
He got a job feeding the pigs and received low wages resulting in him eating with the pigs. This man has hit a low point in his life.
17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
He comes to a moment of clarity and realizes that Dad’s servants have an abundance of food while he is starving.
18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you,
19 And am no more worthy to be called your son: make me as one of your hired servants.
He talks to himself and decides to go to his father and admit that he sinned by being a slothful and ungrateful son. He determines a conversation with his father “I am not worthy to be a member of your family but can you hire me to be one of your servants.”
20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
Thoughts always precede actions. He decided how to approach his father and then returned to what he used to call home to seek employment. His father must have been looking in the distance for his son since he had departed because he saw him when he was far off and moved by compassion ran to his son, fell on his neck, and kissed him. The father’s heart was not hardened towards his son but was hoping his son would have a change of heart.
21 And the son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight, and am no more worthy to be called your son.
With great humility and pain he approaches his Father, first admitting his sin to God and to him and then professes his unworthiness to call him Father.
22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
23 And bring here the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
The Father did not let the son finish his prepared speech. The Father had his own plans if his son returned. He put his best robe on him, put a signet ring (ring of authority), and shoes on his feet. Then the Father called a merry feast requiring the slaughter of a fatted calf.
24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
The Father is declaring that his Son has been resurrected from the dead. It’s time to celebrate and have a party.
25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
27 And he said to him, Your brother is come; and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.
28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.
The brother is angry that his Dad throws a party for his brother that he has declared dead in his heart. He is not rejoicing over the resurrection.
29 And he answering said to his father, See, these many years do I serve you, neither transgressed I at any time your commandment: and yet you never gave me a kid that I might make merry with my friends:
He says “I’ve been an obedient and faithful son and you never threw ME a party.” He resented his father’s forgiveness and generosity. He thought that the celebration should be earned by works and not by grace. He deserved a party and his brother did not.
30 But as soon as this your son was come, which has devoured your living with harlots, you have killed for him the fatted calf.
Since the older son is aware of the younger son’s antics then he must have been geographically close but spiritually far away. He is seething with resentment towards his father and his brother. Works will always lead to resentment.
31 And he said to him, Son, you are ever with me, and all that I have is yours.
32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this your brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
The dad tells him that he has always shared all with him. If you want to have a party then have a party, fatted calf included. It’s right to celebrate and rejoice because your dead brother is now alive. This is a story about works versus grace and forgiveness versus unforgiveness. This story is less about the wasteful son and more about the generous, forgiving father. Both son’s sinned in their hearts. The difference is that one realized it and confessed. The other was blind and remained bitter.
Our heavenly father desires for all men to be saved and to come unto a full experiential knowledge of the truth. He will forgive us because He yearns to have fellowship. Now that’s something to rejoice about.