The Prodigalís Father.
"11 ∂ And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12 And the younger of them said to [his] father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth [to me]. And he divided unto them [his] living. 13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. 14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. 15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. 17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my fatherís have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. 22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put [it] on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on [his] feet: 23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill [it]; and let us eat, and be merry: 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. 25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. 29 And he answering said to [his] father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found." (Luk 15:11-32 AV)
aymon de albatrus
This Parable of Jesus is not so much about the Prodigal son or his brother, but depicts the great love and forgiving heart of the father. The father is of course God, whilst the prodigal is wayward humanity and the brother is the religious side of man. This Parable could correctly be called: "The Parable of the Loving Father"
Most preachers speak well of the prodigal son, a repentful example, and exalt his behaviour making him the real hero of the story, denigrating the hardness of the brother, and generally bypassing the figure of the father altogether.
But, let us examine the character of the prodigal son:
Prodigal, the general meaning of the word can be summarised as:
- recklessly extravagant, pleasure seeking,
- characterized by rash and wasteful expenditure,
- one who spends or gives lavishly and foolishly "led a prodigal life".
Not exactly righteous qualities for a proper son, are they!! And yet the figure of the prodigal son is seen with sympathy and favour by all, why? Anything to do with Jer 17:9?
Much is said and made of his "repentance", but was his "repentance" derived from a contrite and repentant heart burdened and grieved by sin or rather by a pressing bodily need? Let us read his very own words: "16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. 17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my fatherís have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!" (Luk 15:16-17 AV) It looks like he was starving to death and would gladly have eaten the pigís food but no one was giving any to him. Now, this seems a good motivator to devise a plot to fill the belly, surely. And so he devised a smart scheme: "18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants." (Luk 15:18-19 AV) Ahh, so! And might as well have added these words to fully explain his scheme "at least as a hired servant I will not starve". Yes, it looks truly that his "repentance" was based on a pressing need for survival rather than being burden by sin. And so he machinated a likely plot for he knew that his fatherís hearth was soft and benevolent. So he went back rehearsing the "repenting" phrase, over and over, to be sure of saying the right words.
Yeah! Let us forget the romantic notion of a repentant son with a contrite heart for his evil doings, what we have here is a scheming son prepared to take advantage of his loving father, twice-, firstly the get from the father his inheritance before time and now to be taken back. What? You do not believe this? Well, do you really believe that the prodigal son would have gone back to the father in a repentant state if things had gone well for him with riches multiplied and women unlimited? Methinks, NOT. He would not have gone back, AT ALL.
To be noted that the word repent/ance is not mentioned AT ALL, nor is there enough evidence to imply any form of real repentance in the Prodigal. On the other hand the real motivation for him to come back is displayed VERY clearly, i.e. he was starving to death. Yet, the romantic interpreters of this Parable see real remorse in the prodigal, that obviously is not there.
Whilst the brother of the prodigal son that had always obeyed and served his father in everything, never asking anything for himself, sees his younger brother being rewarded after having squandered the fatherís property with prostitutes and in evil living, he is a little upset, and he is promptly branded as having an unforgiving heart with a nasty attitude. Surely any amount of justice and fairness would be taken aback by this accusation, but here we are talking about Grace, nor Justice. More later.
As the story unfolds, we see that one day the father whilst occupied with his daily chores notices his younger son on the road home. Surely the figure projected by the prodigal would have been that of a downcast man having failed in his most selfish and arrogant endeavour, weak physically by lack of food and tired by the long travel back. Yes, it must have been a poor pathetic figure to see. This pitiful state does stir up the compassion of the father for he is a righteous man full of love for his own.
A side track here, some believe that the father passed all his day looking at the home-road hoping for the return of the prodigal. This romantic notion reads in the story more than it actually says, for example the father never went looking for his younger son, nor enquired of his whereabouts, but respected the prodigalís decision and reference to Matthew 18:12 is only marginal for here the sheep got lost, whilst the prodigal went by his own will, knowing well what he wanted. Surely, the father would have had a quick glance at the road, now and again, as he did his daily routine, for he was a good man, but would not have been gazing the road all day long, for he was also a righteous man.
And so he saw him all downcast, and moved by the compassion of a father he went to him and kissed him as a sign of forgiveness and welcome into the fold. Again we see the father as the protagonist of the story, for it is him that promptly forgives and even though the prodigal starts to utter those well rehearsed word of "repentance" the father hardly seems to listen to them, but forgives out of his loving heart for having received a lost son back.
We see here a parallel between Christ and Peter. Peter denied the Lord 3 times, as the Lord predicted, but Peter truly repented and was utterly sorry for his denial of the Lord, remembering Jesus words to him: "And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly." (Mat 26:75 AV)
Not only these words but also being aware of the great evil he had done against his Lord, for he must have remembered the Lordís words apropos: "But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven." (Mat 10:33 AV) This would surely have spelled out total and final doom for Peter. Praise God that our Lord is a God of graceful forgiveness for we see that at the resurrection tomb the Angels instructed the women to tell His disciples to meet Him in Galilee adding and specifically naming Peter to be there also: "But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you." (Mr 16:7 AV) We see here the munificence of our Lord, for Peter had denied Him in front of men, not once but thrice, and he truly deserved to be denied by the Lord in front of His Father, but our marvellous Lord forgives him and calls for him, even before Peter could ask for forgiveness. What a loving Master we serve.
So we see in the parable that the father was so overwhelmed by having his lost son back that he hardly listened to the sonís prepared apology and proceed on to honour the prodigal with regal robes, a ring, shoes (for he would have had only filthy rags on him) and a fatted calf to feast. The prodigal son must have been utterly surprised by this generous treatment for surely he would have expected what was his deserve: a stern rebuke with beating and put to work with the servants. That would have been his correct deserve by the law of justice. But it was not so, instead of justice he gets GRACE, for this father has the Father heart of God.
It is not difficult to see that from the older brother point of view all this was Injustice for the younger brother after having rejected the father, practically spitting in his face he turned his back to the one who gave him life, demanded his inheritance whilst the father was still alive, squandering his fatherís living in reckless and sinful living and when all was gone and he had no way to go but having reached the bottom of misery, by his own rebellious living, he would return home and instead of receiving just punishment for his evil doings, he receives a sumptuous reward. All this would seem to make a mockery of righteous and obedient living, flying against all standards of fairness. Surely this must have been what saddened and embittered the older brother. It just did not seem to be right.
It is easy to condemn the older bother for displaying a Pharisaic attitude but if we are to have a graceful attitude towards the prodigal we should extend that grace also to the older brother, as the father did. But let us look at the scene fully.
After having lived a despicable life in debauchery the prodigal son find himself in totally misery, the logical end of all those who live a reckless extravagant life, and starving to death he decide to risk coming back home to be a servant of his father, at least a meal is guarantee. The father being the father he is, forgives him immediately, dresses him sumptuously and gives a royal feast to celebrate the return. At this point the older son makes his entrance, he had been working very hard in the field since early morning in obedience to the father. No one informs him of the brotherís return and hearing all that feasting noise he ask a servant for info. Now consider his logical thinking: "My reckless brother has returned after having squandered all, why was not a servant sent to let me know of the important event? Why has my father rewarded him for having done wrong? Why was the fatted calf reserved for another important occasion, killed for feasting him, when in the past my father would not even give me a kid to feast with my friend? I have always obeyed my father, never transgressed and never was a feast given for me? Why??"
Surely we can glean between the lines that perhaps there was not too much love lost between the brothers for, even if justly upset, the older brother should have been gladdened by the return of his young brother and for this we can "condemn" him to lack Christian love, but technically the situation seems a little unfair.
Now let us look at the real hero of the story, the father. In fact the whole parable is about him, representing the figure of God in the parable. Both sons represent the evil heart of man. The prodigal shows the fruit of the flesh: "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are [these]; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness," (Gal 5:19 AV) whilst the older son displayed a hard and haughty heart.
We see that the father, quite fairly, is prepared to do for a son what he is prepared to do for the other. He saw the prodigal son from afar and understood the mental and physical state he was in, and even though he had done wrong the father went out of his way to meet him to provide consolation. The same with the older brother, the father understood the turmoil inside him and even though his attitude was not good he went to him, listened attentively to his grievances, did not rebuke him, reassured and affirmed his position since the prodigal had already received and squandered his part, and afterward patiently instructed this son.
28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. 29 And he answering said to [his] father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found." (Luk 15:28-32 AV)
The older brother was upset and would not go in, but his father went out of the house to console to exhort, to encourage him to come in. How great was the love of the father. Well, this son started complaining to the father how unfair the thing was to him that had always done the right thing and never receiving a reward for it, and yet his brother who had done all possible evils and even rejected his father as a father, returns home from these ills and he his immediately rewarded by gifts and welcome, it was too much for him, he could not understand.
The father, very patiently, assures him that he will always be with him (does this speak of salvation?) and all that the father has belongs to him. In those days inheritance was divided between the sons, with the elder son receiving two portions. In this case there were 2 brothers so the propriety would have been divided in 3 with the older son receiving 2 parts. The prodigal would have received the equivalent of one part in money, that he squandered, thus he had no more part in the inheritance and the father estate would have gone all to the older son. The father confirms that to his older son.
So having cleared that important aspect the father goes on in explaining why the return of the prodigal had to be celebrated for under all aspects the prodigal was lost and dead, but now was found and alive and this was a great miracle to be glad in it.
The father did not give to his sons Justice, but much more, he gave them GRACE.
The parable does not say whether or not the older brother went in, but we can concluded that he did for the father had provided sufficient and fair answers covered by true love.
Reading the story with one eye on the target audience and the other eye on the cultural backdrop, we can readily realize that the popular name for this parable is incorrect; a far more accurate description would be: "The Parable of the Loving Father" for it depicts God the father dealing in Grace with humankind. Each son represent different aspects of the human heart, but their actions were equally damaging and hurtful to the father. In this parable Jesus thus depicts and exposes two sin patterns:
wanton, selfish, pleasure-seeking of the younger son
self-righteous, prideful legalism of the older son and.
Looking back at our lives we realise that our attitude is very much like that of these two sons, most likely that of the older son. This parable uncovers our selfishness and haughtiness and should make us realize that each and every one of us is truly a prodigal or his brother, but to God, we are all the same, an ephemeral expression, all dressed up in filthy rags. "But we are all as an unclean [thing], and all our righteousnesses [are] as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." (Isa 64:6 AV)
Praise be to our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, that saves us from this miserable situation.
"But thanks [be] to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1Co 15:57 AV)