"Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering
around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the
and the teachers of the law muttered,
"This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
I have always loved the story of the prodigal son. So often we take these stories out of context and use them to make a point. Most of the time the point is valid and true to Scripture, but when we take them out of context, we sometimes miss the original message the Lord was trying to convey. The first two verses of Luke 15 gives us the context of the story and its intended audience. Jesus addressed this audience in three parables, the last being the prodigal son, which is the parable I will focus on.
The Parable of the Prodigal starts out, "There was a man who had two sons..." I remember as a child mainly hearing the story of the prodigal son, but because the story begins with the fact that the man had two sons, I want to look at both of the sons. This week we will look at the younger son who is called the prodigal and then next week we will look at the part of the parable that tells us about the older son.
The younger son approached his dad with an unusual request. He asked his dad to give him his portion of the inheritance. The oldest son would be given a double portion meaning the younger one would receive one third of his father's property unless there were other sons or daughters. The father complied and within a few days of getting his inheritance, the younger son packs up all that he has and leaves home for a far away country.
While there, the son squandered his money and spent it on immoral, reckless living until all of his money was spent. He didn't make poor decisions or lose it in a business deal, he simply wasted it on things that brought him pleasure. At least that is what he thought at the time. While there in his sin, his money ran out and he began to experience poverty. Then a famine came making it impossible for him to get food. So he looked for work and all he could get was a job feeding pigs. Now to a Jew this is a cursed position as pigs were considered unclean animals by Jewish law. I don't know if you know anything about raising pigs but our son did that in high school. It was a really stinky, dirty business. The young brother's job seemed to really reflect his sad spiritual state...both reeking. As a result he was reduced to having a job no Jew would ever want.
As food became more scarce, he began to experience deep hunger. As he slopped the pigs and watched them eat their fill, his hunger continued to grow. Yet, no one would give him food to eat and more than likely the slop wasn't fit for his consumption. He realized even pigs ate while he starved. I wonder if he was experiencing some heart hunger with that physical hunger -- hunger for the human kindness that had met his needs in the past, hunger for the love of his father that he had taken for granted, hunger for the familiar home and community that didn't stink. Rebellion has the potential to lead us away from what the heart wants most, we just don't realize it at the time.
In the midst of hunger pains, he reflects on home and experiences a heart change. He realizes his father's servants eat better than him. He heads for home and on the long journey home, he rehearses the confession he will make to his dad -- a confession of sin and a request for acceptance as a servant.
Little did he know that his father constantly gazed the horizon hoping to see him. When he spotted his son, the father's compassionate heart compelled him to run, which is not something that most men of that culture did. He ran! He embraced him! He kissed him. I can't help but wonder if the son expected a lecture, a cold shoulder, or even rejection. When I think of that scene, I also think of what my son smelled like when he came home from the pig barn with the stench of pigs wafting clear across the room. The last thing I would have done was embrace him. Yet the dad did just that.
I often ask myself how I might relate to the person in the story...and to be honest it isn't hard to relate to the younger son. The Word tells me that while I was still in my sin, Christ loved me and died for me. That means God loved me with the stench of my sin still on me -- the stench of my pride, the stench of my lust, the stench of my selfishness, the stench of my self-centeredness, the stench of my independent heart that often chooses to do life apart from God, and the stench of trying to fill my God hunger with things of the world. Yeah, I can relate to him. I wish I couldn't, but I can. How about you? Can your relate?
In response to the son's confession, the father calls his servants to bring a robe, a ring, and shoes. These are not the clothes of a servant, they are the clothing of a chosen son! He asks the servants to prepare a banquet so that he can celebrate the return of his son -- the son who was lost is found, the son who was dead is now alive.
The father in the story shows us the Heavenly Father's heart. There are a lot of us who for a variety of reasons walked away from God and His fold after having made declarations of faith. Maybe we were wounded by legalism or by people in the church. Maybe we simply rebelled wanting something more. Maybe we slipped so gradually into sin that shame sent us running away from God and His people lest they find out. Maybe, we have reached a point that we believe the stench of what we have done will never be forgiven or washed away. But this story spoken by Christ Himself tells us the truth. God is always scanning the horizon for the return of his prodigals. It tells us that God's love and compassion would compel Him to run towards us at the first sign of our return. No matter how bad we have blown it, no matter how deeply the stench is ground into our pours, God clothes us as sons and daughters washing away our stench and our shame and He throws a party to celebrate our return. We can let go of the shame because maybe, just maybe, we needed to ere to come to the end of ourselves and to the end of our pride in order to recognize God for who He really is -- our Redeemer, our Restorer, our Reconciler, our Healer, our Satisfaction, and the author of our redemption story. We may have needed a pig-pen experience to come to fully understand His grace and His mercy. There is nothing we experience that isn't filtered through love scarred hands. Do you see Him? He is there scanning the horizon for you and for me.