The Prodigal Son

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"He arose, and came to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. Luke 15:20

The Lost Son
The Prodigal Son
RELATED TOPICS
SERMONS, ESSAYS AND OPINIONS
CONTENTS

Commentary

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most well known of the parables told by Jesus. The story is found in Luke 15:11–32. being preceded by The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin. Jesus tells the story of a son who dishonours his father and squanders his fortues and returns home in disgrace to his father but is welcomed with arms open wide and forgiveness.

Text - Luke 15:11-32

He said, "A certain man had two sons.
The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of your property.' He divided his livelihood between them.
Not many days after, the younger son gathered all of this together and traveled into a far country. There he wasted his property with riotous living.
When he had spent all of it, there arose a severe famine in that country, and he began to be in need.
He went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed pigs.
He wanted to fill his belly with the husks that the pigs ate, but no one gave him any.
But when he came to himself he said, 'How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough to spare, and I'm dying with hunger!
I will get up and go to my father, and will tell him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight.
I am no more worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants."'
"He arose, and came to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
"But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe, and put it on him. Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.
Bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat, and celebrate;
for this, my son, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.' They began to celebrate.
"Now his elder son was in the field. As he came near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
He called one of the servants to him, and asked what was going on.
He said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and healthy.'
But he was angry, and would not go in. Therefore his father came out, and begged him.
But he answered his father, 'Behold, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed a commandment of yours, but you never gave me a goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.
But when this, your son, came, who has devoured your living with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.'
"He said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
But it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.'"

Interpretations

Although the story is traditionally referred to as "The Prodigal Son", this title is not found in the gospel, and some feel that it would be better called "The Lost Son", showing its parallels to the parables of the "Lost Sheep" and "Lost Coin" which immediately precede it in Luke 15. In all three, the theme is the concern of God for the repenting sinner. Indeed, many people with no other acquaintance with the word "prodigal" mistakenly believe it means lost. It actually means extravagant. Others feel that the parable might be better called the story of "The Two Sons", to emphasise the role of the elder son, and the lesson against envy and low-mindedness that it contains.

The story is one of several very well-known parables of Jesus that are only found in Luke's gospel. It expresses of the inclusive love and grace of God. The forgiveness of the son is not conditional on good works, since he has plainly done nothing "good" throughout the story, other than to return home, symbolic of repentance; and although he formulates the intention of admitting his guilt to his father, his father accepts him even before he gets the chance to carry his intention out, although he indeed makes his prepared speech of confession in the end. This shows that repentance implies a change in the direction of one's life - which the Prodigal Son literally demonstrates.

The Eastern Orthodox Church traditionally reads this story on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, which in their liturgical year is the Sunday before Meatfare Sunday and about two weeks before the beginning of Great Lent. One common kontakion hymn of the occasion reads,

I have recklessly forgotten Your glory, O Father
And among sinners I have scattered the riches which You gave to me
And now I cry to You as the Prodigal
I have sinned before You, O merciful Father
Receive me as a penitent and make me as one of Your hired servants

The rebuttal to the Pharisees

Within the context of Luke 15, these three parables — the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son — make up a rebuttal to the Pharisees' accusation to Jesus: "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." They may have been referring obliquely to Psalm 1:1:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.

In these parables Jesus illustrates that "sinners" are people in peril, and so it would be only natural that He spend time with them. Thus He not only rebuffs the Pharisee's accusations, but justifies His own actions as correct and natural.

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