The Prodigal Son

Reading: Luke 15

Among the crowds that surrounded Jesus, were some of the rulers of the Jews, the Scribes and Pharisees. These people often came to hear Jesus just to find fault and to try to catch Him out in what He said. They thought of themselves as being very good people and looked upon others as being bad, wicked people or sinners as they called them. Many of the people who came to Jesus were like you and me; we have all done something wrong, which is why we need to come to Jesus; and there were others like the tax collectors, who the people all knew were cheats and so these people were know as "sinners". Only Jesus lived a perfect life, without sin; everyone else has done many wrong things, and whether they are terrible things or small things (like a lie) it makes no difference - we are all sinners and need to seek for forgiveness.

The Scribes and Pharisees thought that if Jesus were truly a great man He would know what sort of people these were and have nothing to do with them. The Pharisees themselves kept right away from such "doubtful characters". But Jesus knew what they were thinking, so He told a few parables mainly to teach the Scribes and Pharisees that they were wrong in criticising Him for His friendship towards the poorer people and sinners, and that God cares for all these people.

In this chapter of Luke, the three parables are all about something which is lost, and which somebody wishes to find. A shepherd has lost a sheep, a woman has lost her money, and a father has lost his son. The sheep would not have got lost if it had kept with the flock (a lesson for all of us perhaps) but nevertheless the shepherd was very glad when he found it; so also was the woman when she found her money; perhaps you can remember a verse which says " the angels rejoice over one sinner that repenteth". The third parable - the Prodigal Son - assures us that God cares for each of his children.

Jesus tells of a rich farmer who had two sons. (If Jesus had told the story these days the father may have been a business man who owned a large group of stores or a group of hotels throughout the country). The youngest son was not very happy at home and he thought that he would enjoy himself more if he left home and went to explore another country. So he went to his father and asked for his share of the estate which would be his when his father died, and a few days later, having turned his share into cash, left home for a distant country. There he quickly found friends to help him spend his money and he had an exciting time, but very soon he had wasted all his money. He was now penniless, and his so-called "friends" had vanished with the last of his money. He was in a sorry state, but worse happened - the harvest failed and there was a famine in the land. He managed to find work on a farm caring for pigs, but he became so hungry that he would gladly have eaten the husks which he was feeding to the pigs.

This utter hopelessness brought him to his senses. He remembered that his father's servants had plenty to eat and to spare. He decided to return home, ask his father's forgiveness and offer to be one of his servants. The story had a happy ending - the father must have been watching and longing for the return of his youngest son' even when he was a long way off he ran to meet him - yes, he ran. Together they returned home, the best robe was brought, a ring placed on his finger and shoes for his feet. (Servants in those days did not wear anything on their feet). His father would not hear of him being a servant. A feast of celebration was prepared and the father was so happy - "This my son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found".

But one shadow crosses the happy scene: the older son responded badly. He was angry that so much fuss had been made of his wayward brother - perhaps we can understand a little how he felt; but his father quite rightly told him "You are always with me, and all I have is yours; how could we not celebrate this happy day, your brother was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found".

The Pharisees and Scribes, who thought they were so good because they kept to all the details of the law of Moses, (but showed little mercy in the way they dealt with the ordinary men and women who were round them) must have felt very guilty as they listened to the parables Jesus told; they knew that Jesus was referring to them when he spoke of the older son's reaction.

For those people who had been listening to the story carefully, Jesus had made it all clear. God is like the father in the story: if someone seeks God in prayer and says "Father, I have sinned, please forgive me", and the person is truly sorry, then God is happy to have that person back in His family. He forgives the wrong that person has done and there is joy in heaven.


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