The tax collectors and sinners and others who were shunned by the temple, were gathering around Jesus to hear his words. This bothered the Pharisees as they were the ones who had made them an outcast. Jesus heard their grumblings and proceeded with three parables of finding something that was lost.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin
In both the parables of the Lost sheep and the Lost coin, the owner lost only one out of their many other sheep/coins in their possession. But still the shepherd went out in the open country to look for the lost sheep and the women got down on her knees and sweeps the entire house to search for the missing coin. They also shared the same level of Joy and Excitement when they found their lost possession. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are God’s possession, and Jesus compared these joyous scenes to be much inferior to the celebrations held in heaven for when one lost soul comes back to the fold of God. At this point, Jesus had established that he had come for the sinners but he continued with the parable of two sons to illustrate who are close to the father.
The Parable of the Lost Son
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.” – Luke 15:11-12
Jesus uses an unimaginable radical example for his Jewish audience. A younger son asking for his share of property while the father was still alive was unheard of. In fact, the old testament laws allowed for stoning of such rebellious sons. (Dt 21: 18–21) but the father gave the son what he asked for and allowed him to set off to a distant country.
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. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. – Luke 15:13-16
There he enjoyed his new found wealth for a while before famine struck the land. He had spent all his inheritance in pursuit of worldly pleasures and did not even have money for food during the famine. He found employment in a pig farm and he would fill his stomach with the pods meant for the swines. Such dramatic fall from grace, from having everything to eat at his father’s table to scavenging for food and living among the livestock that he has considered unclean his whole life. He soon realized that the servants of his father’s household were better off than him and he mustered up the courage to beg for his father’s forgiveness.
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. – Luke 15:20
The father did not wait for an apology (like most earthly fathers would expect) but rather left his house and came running to hug his returning son. We as human beings would not forgive our transgressors so easily, we look for an apology and perhaps a change in attitude for us to even consider forgiving someone, but God who knows our heart forgives us instantly. He does not want any ‘hail Marys’ or sacrifices or long drafted apologies or even acts of self prostrations from us, but only a change in our hearts.
The father in the parable illustrates God, and Jesus tries to show us a glimpse of the Joy our Father in heaven experiences when we return to Him. The father throws a huge feast and dresses his son in all his former glory. All is forgiven and there is celebration in the house of the Lord. But there is still one sect remaining – The Pharisees represented by the elder son.
The Parable of the “Obedient” Son
The elder son returned from the fields and heard the commotion when he was near his house. He called one of his servants to inquire the reason for the celebrations and came to know that his brother had returned home.
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 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. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ – Luke 15:28-30
The elder brother’s response to his brother coming home sums the attitude that the Pharisees had when Jesus welcomed the ‘sinners and tax collectors’ to his meetings. The elder brother finally poured out his inner desires to his father as to how he was faking an attitude of obedience. In His mind the Pharisees also wanted to delve in sinful activities and thought that they are punching their tickets to heaven by restraining themselves. Today we deny entry to fallen believers forgetting that we were once forgiven our transgressions and have been accepted into the fold of God. Will we complain to God when he accepts the backsliders and not count our church attendance to our credit?
The Father’s Response
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 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.’” – Luke 15:31-32
Through the words of the father, Jesus answered the questions that the Pharisees were asking about him mingling with the sinners. The elder son’s refusal to accept the returning son back, mirrored the reactions the Pharisees and even Christians today when a lost sheep finds its way back home. We look at the returning son with doubtful eyes, waiting or perhaps even hoping for him to slip up. If we do not welcome back the backsliders, God will not welcome us in the great banquet. At some point of our life we have all been the lost son and through the intervention of the Holy Spirit we have come back to God. Let us not be like the arrogant son and lose what we have in keeping others out.