19 We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4) The Parable of The Lost Sons
The Context 1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.’ (Luke 15)
The three parables of Luke 15 were Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. He did not give them a lecture, but rather told them stories – three stories about lostness. There are 100 sheep and one is lost. There are 10 coins and one is lost. There are 2 sons and both are lost. The younger son, like the sheep, is lost outside the house. The older son, like the coin, is lost inside the house. Jesus was inviting the Pharisees and the teachers of the law to find themselves in the story, correct their understanding of who God is, come home to Him and join in the celebration! (John Hanneman, “A Father’s Love For A Wayward Son”) The Three Parables
The Pharisees looked at sin as an external thing, rather than a matter of the heart. To associate with those whose outward lives were sinful was to challenge the entire system of spirituality which the Pharisees had developed, and that was to avoid outward, socially unacceptable sin, and those who did such evils. Therefore they could not passively accept the opposing view of spirituality of Jesus, which enabled him to have contact with sinners yet not be defiled by them.
The Pharisees were like Jesus in that they cared very much for that which was lost, and they rejoiced greatly concerning the recovery of what was lost. The critical difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is that they cared about possessions, while Jesus cared about people. The Pharisees were hypocrites. They grumbled that Jesus would gladly welcome back repentant sinners and rejoice in their salvation, yet they would diligently search for lost possessions and and celebrate when they found them. The first two parables, then, expose the misplaced compassion of the Pharisees. They also contrast the “love for that which was lost” in the Pharisees with that of the Lord Jesus. The Pharisees were “out of sync” with heaven. Why were they unwilling to seek to save sinners and unable to rejoice at their repentance? Why were they unwilling to associate with them? This is what the third parable tells us. It depicts the loving and forgiving heart of God (in the father), the repentance of the sinner (the younger brother), and the sullen joylessness of the Pharisees (the older brother). (Bob Deffinbaugh, “Lost And Found”)
A Father’s Love “… Jesus did not give the parables to teach us how to live. He gave them, I believe, to correct our notions about who God is and who God loves.” (Philip Yancey, “What’s So Amazing About Grace”, p.53)
An Outrageous Request 11 Jesus continued: ‘There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” (Luke 15)
An Unexpected Response 12 … So he divided his property between them. 13 ‘Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. (Luke 15)
Reaping The Fruit of Foolishness 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. (Luke 15)
Coming To His Senses 17 ‘When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” 20 So he got up and went to his father. (Luke 15)
The Lovesick Father 20 … ‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him. (Luke 15)
Suddenly the story turns and the spotlight shifts from the prodigal to the father. The prodigal comes near to the town but is still far away. The father sees him at a distance and is deeply moved with compassion, overwhelmed with gut- wrenching feelings of empathy and kindness. The father did not go out looking for his son in the far country, but he still goes to him while he is far away. He initiates the action and bridges the chasm between himself and his son. My sense is that the father had been looking for a long time, perhaps many years, and planned his actions ahead of time. By running to meet his son, he saves him from the shame of walking through town and facing the hostility of the community. The father would have been wearing a long robe, a robe that reached to the ground. No man would have run in the fashion of the father because it would have meant hiking up his robe and exposing his hairy legs, a very shameful act.
When the father reaches his son he embraces him, literally falls on his neck, and affectingly kisses him again and again. The kiss is a sign of forgiveness and reconciliation. One could have imagined the son falling on his face and kissing his father’ feet but not this. The father’s actions are dramatic and all take place before the son speaks. The father humbles himself publicly since the whole village would have been watching. (John Hanneman, “A Father’s Love For A Wayward Son”)
All Is Restored 21 ‘The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22 ‘But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15)
The Father Heart of God We are accustomed to finding a catch in every promise, but Jesus’ stories of extravagant grace include no catch, no loophole disqualifying us from God’s love. Each has at its core an ending to good to be true – or so good it must be true.
How different are these stories from my own childhood notions about God: a God who forgives, yes, but reluctantly, after making the penitent squirm. I imagined God as a distant thundering figure who prefers fear and respect to love. Jesus tells instead of a father publicly humiliating himself by rushing out to embrace a son who has squandered half the family fortune. There is no solemn lecture, “I hope you’ve learned your lesson!” Instead, Jesus tells of the father’s exhilaration – “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” – and then adds the buoyant phrase, “they began to make merry.” What blocks forgiveness is not God’s reticence – “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him” – but ours. God’s arms are always extended; we are the ones who turn away. (Philip Yancey, “What’s So Amazing About Grace”, p.52)
Response Have you allowed yourself to be embraced by the dramatic, unconditional love and acceptance of the God the Father in the way that the younger son experienced?
Perhaps our picture of God is different than what Jesus paints. Perhaps we have viewed God as a stern taskmaster or as a distant and uninvolved parent. Perhaps we need to take that picture off the wall and replace it with a picture of the father we see in the parable. Perhaps we don’t feel worthy of receiving such abundant and lavish grace from God. The younger son says that he is not worthy to be a son. But he does not determine his worth. His sin does not determine his worth. The father determines the son’s worth through his actions. Like the coin lost in the house, the son retains his value to the father even when he is lost. And so do we. Perhaps we know these truths about God but we don’t have a personal experience of them. I am not saying that experience is the foundation of our faith but I am saying that God wants these truths to be a heart-felt reality. He wants us to personally know his embrace.
Henri Nouwen wrote a great book on this parable called The Return of the Prodigal Son. Before he wrote the book he was able to visit the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and spend several hours sitting and gazing at Rembrandt’s painting depicting the prodigal’s homecoming scene. Rembrandt painted a scene with the prodigal kneeling before the father and several people looking on. Nouwen makes the point that it isn’t enough to stand and watch others receive the lavish grace of God. Instead each of us at some point is invited to be in the center, allowing the father to lay his hands on us.
God wants each of us to have the kind of relationship with him that he had with his own son. And so he searches, finds, and brings us home like the good shepherd. Home is in the center of our being where we hear the father say, “You are my beloved daughter, you are my beloved son; in you I am well pleased.” Our core identity is the beloved of God. This is our address. This is our home. (John Hanneman, “A Father’s Love For A Wayward Son”)