LUKE 15: 11-32


The Parable of the Lost Son

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.’ 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. 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.

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.

“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 around him and kissed him.

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.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

The title of this parable: The parable of the lost son – is a bit misleading because this is a parable about two sons and a father. But as we reflect on this parable – I’d like you to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Who is the lost son? And…
  2. What is it about them that makes them lost?

So let’s look at the younger son. He goes up to his father and says that he wants his share of the inheritance. Now in order to receive an inheritance, lots of things may have to happen – but there is one thing that HAS to happen. Someone, somewhere along the line, has to die. So in asking for his inheritance now, the younger son is saying to his Dad: I want your money – but I don’t want you. Or indeed the son is saying to the father – as far as I am concerned: you are dead to me.

Astonishingly, his father says yes and gives the younger son his inheritance and he goes as far away as he can from his father and squanders his wealth in wild living. He spends it all. But things go from bad to worse. There’s a famine and the only job he can get is to feed pigs. In that culture where pigs are considered the lowest of the low – that is as bad as things can get. And no one helped him. He was on his own.

But then he came to his senses. Why don’t I go back to my father – admit my sin and live as a hired servant or slave to him.

So he sets off back home – but his father is looking out for him and when he sees him way off, he is filled with compassion and he hitches up his clothes and runs to his so thrown his arms around him and welcomes him. The younger son admits his sin and says he is no longer worthy to be called a son. But his father calls for him to be dressed in the finest robe and pronounces him no longer dead but alive!

Just a few thoughts on the younger son. What made the younger son lost? Well – he went away from the father because he wanted to live in the way that he did. He wanted money and possessions and wild living.

So why did he come back? Why did he return to his father? In our passage it says – he came to his senses. In other translations it says: he came to himself. In other words to go away from the father, to be lost from the father, is to be lost to yourself. But to come to the father is to come to yourself. Or to put it another way as we go deeper into our Father God we start to understand what we were created for. Life starts to make sense. We were meant to be with our Father.

Now let’s consider the older son. He’s out in the fields – blissfully unaware that his brother has returned. And he doesn’t go into the party welcoming his brother but asks what all the noise is about. The older son becomes angry and when his father comes out and pleads with him to join the party the mask is ripped off. Look at what the older brother says: “I’ve been slaving for you” and “you’ve never even given me a goat so I could celebrate with friends.”

This is so revealing. Notice how the older brother considers himself as a slave to is father. And what did the older son want? He wanted money and possessions and wild living; precisely what his younger brother had wanted. And so the father pleads with him to join the party. And it is left hanging? Will he or won’t he?

The punchline is so dramatic; the two sons are almost identical in their desires. But the older son hides his desires under a cloak of self-righteousness. The older son is lost too. What made the younger son lost was what he did wrong; but what made the older son lost was what he thought was right.

And this is the danger for Christians as we get older. The danger is that we forget that we have been (and are being saved) through the kindness of God. Not because of anything we have done but as St Paul says – we are saved by grace through faith. The danger is we get judgmental, hyper-critical (as my grandfather used to warn his congregations: beware of the critical spirit) and even hypocritical – as we cannot save ourselves.

But our Father is still pleading with us to come and join the party.

So to close – perhaps I can leave you with a few questions to ponder:

  1. Which son do you identify with (it may be both) – and why? And…
  2. Who should have gone out to bring the younger son back to the father?
  3. What does that mean for us as we consider people we know who live “far away from and lost” from our Father?

Category: Children , Sermons , The Bridge

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