The Parable of the Lost Sons

As Jesus was gaining more followers each day, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law sought to use His popularity against Him. They started murmurs about how Jesus was mingling with the wrong crowd and that His followers were nothing but prostitutes and tax collectors, sinners that He should not be associating with. In response, Jesus narrates three parables of things that were lost but were later found. The last of these was the parable of the lost sons as one of them left his father’s house to live in a foreign land, while the other though stayed close to his father, his heart was in a land of its own.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

“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

In one of the longest and most detailed Parables, Jesus uses an unimaginable radical example for his Jewish audience. A younger son asking for his share of the property while the father was still alive was unheard of. In fact, the old testament laws allowed for the stoning of such rebellious sons. (Deut 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 newfound wealth for a while before the 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 swine. 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. Such was the extent by which his pride had blinded him that he would rather eat the food of the pigs than ask forgiveness from his father. He found a lowly job that give him sustenance but also helped feed his ego and pride. 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.

Even we do the same when we stray away from God or His will for our lives. We do not return immediately but try to stand on our own by exploring new opportunities. Only when all our plans have failed and we hit a dead then, only then do we think of coming back to God. It is our pride and ego that prevents us from coming back to God but more than anything else it is also fear. The Fear that satan instils in our hearts makes us forget about the love and compassion of God.

The God who sacrificed His own Son for our sake. But that’s not what satan wants us to remember when we are down. He rather scares us by making us think about the hurt we have caused God and why we are not worthy of His love anymore. He would convince us that if we go back to Him we would have to face His wrath. We are happy with the bare minimum sustenance rather than wanting the blessing that God has kept for us. Even in our spiritual lives, we are happy with the bare minimum, like Sunday worship, giving offerings, occasional volunteering, joining a fellowship, rather than having a real relationship with our 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.

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 had the resources to hunt down his son and bring him back but he waited for his son to return home on his own. 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. He does not want to drag us out against our will but is waiting for hearts to be turned and to recognise the love that He has for us. The father throws a huge feast and dresses his son in all his former glory. All is forgiven and there is a 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 up 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 their minds, the Pharisees also wanted to delve into 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 elder brother never asked the father what was in his heart. If he really wanted a goat to celebrate with his friends then he should have asked for it rather than sulking when the younger son gets to have the fattest calf. People themselves don’t ask for gifts of the Spirit from God but when they see the manifestation of those gifts in someone else’s life they feel jealous. They start comparing themselves with other believers. They feel that they had been coming to church since their childhood and have been following God for a longer period, then why does the newcomer get the gifts of the Spirit before them.

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 of 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 in 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.

Questions Discussed

  • Why did the younger son not return to his father when he ran out of money but found a job taking care of pigs?
  • Why do we not come to God directly?
  • The father had the resources to hunt his son and bring him back but why did he rather wait for his son to return home?
  • God has even more resources than this father then why does He not bring all the lost back into His fold?
  • Why was the elder son offended by his brother’s return?
  • Who does the Elder son represent?
  • What is the expectation that God has from His followers?


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