The holiday season is over, and we’re all finding our way back to our normal routines, and this Sunday we’ll be returning to our study in the Gospel of Luke, reading Luke 15:11-32.
In this section is one of Jesus’ most famous parables, The Prodigal Son. As you’ll have noticed, I’ve re-named the parable to something I think is a bit more appropriate, since the meaning of the word “prodigal” is to spend or give something on a lavish scale.
If you read the passage, it’s very important to keep the context in which this story was told in view. When the chapter opened, Jesus was being criticized by the religious leaders of his day for hanging out and even eating with people whose reputations were less than respectable. To answer his critics as to why he was so casually spending time with sinners, Jesus told a string of parables. The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin were the first two which we covered in our last study.
In this story, the stakes are raised, but the issue at heart is the same. Something missing is returned and this calls for a celebration.
We’re going to dig into this on Sunday because there are some nuances to this story we could easily miss as modern Westerners looking in on it. There are patterns from Israel’s history that show up here – maybe you can recognize them.
You’ll notice that the parable unfolds in four acts – the first act is the the youngest of two sons asking for his inheritance early and squandering it all in wanton living, far away from home. The second act is his coming to his senses and determining to try and bargain his way back home. The third and most beautiful act is his return and his father’s reaction and response to him. The fourth act is probably the most challenging, and the one addressing the original question of why Jesus is eating with scoundrels.
This parable is probably one of the most stunning revelations of God’s heart and grace. It’s often told as an encouragement for people to repent and turn to God, which it certainly does that – but the real teeth of this story is it’s challenge to God’s people about how we view each other. What are our assumptions about the importance of repentance, and what do we think God is looking for from humanity? What is God’s end goal? If we view the father of this parable as a picture of God, what would we say his goal is?
Try the characters on for size. Who do you relate most to in this parable? Who do you struggle to relate to? The story provides no ending – If you could write the ending, what would it be?
I LOVE this parable – I can’t wait to talk it over with you on Sunday! Hope you can join us!