The story of a Prodigal Son, The Angry Brother, and a Loving Father
And he said, a certain man had two sons… Luke 15:11
A young man, with tatters for clothes, dirty, unkempt and disheveled, staggers down the long dusty road. He stumbles along, head down, unable to look fellow travelers in the eye. His stride is uneven, his steps uncertain, as if hesitant to reach his destination. His feet know the way, it’s a road he’s traveled before, with his father’s sheep on the way to the temple. As he rounds a bend he sees a man coming toward him, causing him to pause. While still a ways off, he recognizes the familiar form of the person running towards him… His father, his mind drifts back to the last time he saw him, it seems like a lifetime ago…
“And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.” Luke 15:12 KJV.
This statement definitely grabbed the attention of Jesus’s audience. For a son to ask his father for his inheritance was akin to telling the father to drop dead. Only with the death of the father could the son receive his inheritance. You can hear the murmuring and grumbling of the crowd, as the people talked among themselves about how they would handle such a shocking request. Not only did the son’s request go against societal norms, but so did the father’s granting it. It would have fallen on the older son to rebuke his brother, but the father spares both and divides his living.
Now, he didn’t just write out a check made payable to his son. No, lands were divided, animals, barns, servants, goods, all that the father owned was divided up between his two sons. The son then sold everything, land that had passed through the generations of his family, sheep, goats, prized possessions. This would have put all that heard His parable up in arms over such an egregious action. The murmuring grows louder as the parable goes on.
Next, the young man spends all he has on riotous living. As his money is running out, a famine strikes the land to which he’s traveled to squander his inheritance. Finally, starving and finding no friend to take him in, signs on to a pig farmer as a servant, tending to the pigs. Now the Jews are really appalled, pigs- an unclean animal- what a low and debased position this prodigal finds himself in. Many nod approvingly, serves him right, they say.
“And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.” Luke 15:16 KJV
Fain, or with pleasure or gladly, filled his belly… That’s hunger, to have been glad to throw himself amongst the pigs down at the trough and eat. A Jewish boy, who had been taught between clean and unclean animals now struggles with the idea of eating alongside them. This is the lowest point for him, alone in his desolation.
“And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s house have bread enough to spare, and I perish with hunger!” Luke 15:17 KJV
As he sinks to his knees at the trough, the sounds of the pigs snorting, rooting, squealing all around him, it comes to him. All the times he watched alongside his father as the servants cast bread out to the field to the birds. His father’s servants always had enough, and he, he always had more than he needed, at his father’s house. He looks around, at his circumstances and realizes, the only chance he has at survival, to live, is at his father’s house.
“I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and no more worth to be called thy son: make me a one of thy hired servants.” Luke 15:18-19 KJV
And so with that determination, he struggles to his feet, leaving the pigs to their slop. Accepting that no one would accept him as a son, his only option is to ask to be a servant. He sets his feet toward his father’s house. Thus his journey to restoration had begun.
“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.” Luke 15:20
The father, having heard of the famine in the land in which his son journeyed, spends large portions of his day watching the roads that come from that direction. Many a night the sun sets with the father’s eyes still on the horizon searching. When he travels to markets, selling goods and livestock, his mind is preoccupied with his missing boy. Out in the field gathering the harvest, the servants note the number of times that he pauses his work to look up and out over the expanse of his land, in search of his child.
Finally, as the heat of the day rises off the ground causing the road and those traveling on it to distort and misshapen, he catches a glimpse of a man staggering along the roadside a long way off. At first he thinks his old eyes are simply playing tricks on him, his mind and the heat deceiving him into seeing what he wants to see. Then the glimpse becomes clearer, and he recognizes the figure coming towards him. He leaps off his porch with a shout, past his bewildered servants, old tired legs rejuvenated carry him down the long dusty road to his son, whom he’s been waiting on for so long.
This part of Jesus’s parable would have those listening scratching their heads. A father running? Running to the son who had done those horrible things to him? Having compassion? Jesus was attempting to get them to view God with a little less formality, to see Him as a close, personal, fatherly Lord. This was not a relationship with the LORD that the Jews would be comfortable with. In the whole of the Old Testament, God as a Father is only mentioned three times, the New Testament- over 50. Jesus wanted them to know Him, personally, intimately. The Jews rarely spoke the name of God in daily life. Yahweh was used only in synagogue worship or reading of the scriptures. In it’s place they used Adonai, or That Name. While it’s important to treat the name of God with the upmost respect, the Jews had made the saying of His name in certain respects almost a religion unto itself. Jesus wanted to change that. When He taught the disciples to pray, how did He start? Our Father, who art in Heaven…
“And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. 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: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found…” Luke 15:21-23 KJV
The first action of the Father isn’t a reprimand or rebuke, it was to restore his son to his station. A robe, ring, and shoes to signify him as a son, not a servant. Being a son meant that he once again had his inheritance. The father, quietly re-purchased the fields, the animals, the servants that the son had so reckless sold away. Now, he made them available to him once more.
The Angry Brother
“Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing… And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.” Luke 15:25,28 KJV
The elder son, the “good” son, having endured the shame his younger brother had brought to the family is angry, not only at his brother, but also with his father. He feels upset that the years of loyal toil and work he’s put in isn’t appreciated. He’s mad that the father so readily accepted his brother back into the family. No penalty, no working off the debt, no punishment. He doesn’t refer to his brother as his brother, instead saying “thy son”.
Again, the patient father hears his sons griefs and pleads with him to come in. He lets him know that he knows the work the elder has put forward and the reward of his inheritance. He reminds him that his son is also the eldest’s brother, and that he was feared dead, and now is found again.
“Sin will take you farther than you want to go… Sin will leave you longer than you want to stay. Sin will cost you far more than you want to pay” Sin Will Take You Farther, The Catherdals, 1995
To those who see the prodigal come through the back doors of the church, put away the sword. Don’t give them the cold shoulder or long looks down the nose. Meet them as the Father would, with grace and mercy. Rejoice with them as they are brought back to the family, don’t expect them to “earn it”. For your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost, and is found. Take your cue from the loving, patient, merciful Father.
To the prodigals of today, come home. The Father is waiting. Waiting to restore unto you all the things you laid aside. There will be no stern admonishment, no guilt, only mercy, grace, and love. He’s willing, He’s waiting to restore you as His son or daughter again. The things you gave away, gave up or gave up on, He wants to restore unto you. The road to your restoration can begin with a step, step in the direction of a loving and patient Father. He is ready to meet you with open arms of love and embrace you as His son. He’ll remove the tattered remnants of the mess of your life and place around your shoulder a robe of righteousness. A ring, signifying you as a child of the King, and shoes, to help walk through life with grace.