Chapter 26.3 Parables of the Lost: Return of the Prodigal Son
Dedication A.D. 29 to last journey A.D. 30
(about three and a half months from winter to early spring)
Return of the Prodigal Son, original oil painting on canvas by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, 1708-1787
Return of the Prodigal Son, original oil painting on canvas by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, 1708-1787
(CLICK on the image above for a LARGER version)

Then Christ told them a third parable, the Lost Son: “A man had two sons. The younger told his father, ‘Give me my share of your property now.’ So his father divided his estate between them.” The son’s conduct, whatever his motives, was most heartless and disrespectful to his father, and sinful before God.

“A few days later this younger son turned his entire share into cash, packed all his belongings, and left home for a distant land, and there he wasted all his money on wild living. When he had spent it all, a severe famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local landowner to hire him to feed the pigs on his farm. The boy became so hungry he would have been glad to fill his belly with the pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”

The landowner had been unwilling to help the distressed young stranger, and took advantage of him. To a Jew, even to touch a pig was defilement; eating the husks of grain thrown to the swine was the worst possible humiliation.

“Then the son finally came to his senses and said to himself, ‘At home, how many of my father’s hired servants have more food than they can eat, and here I am starving to death! I will go at once to my father and say: “Father, I have sinned against both God and you; I am no longer worthy of being called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”’

“So he returned home to his father. While he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both God and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then kill the calf we have been fattening in the pen. Let us celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ And so the festivities began.

“Meanwhile, the older son was working in the fields. On his way back, as he approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called to one of the servants and asked what it meant. The servant told him, ‘Your brother has come home; your father has killed the calf we were fattening and has prepared a great feast. We are celebrating his safe return.’

“The older brother was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and pleaded with him; but he replied angrily, ‘You know how I have slaved for you all these years; I never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me so much as a young goat to celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on his women, you celebrate by killing the finest calf we have.’

“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours. How could we fail to celebrate this happy day? For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

Boundless Love of God

Through this beautiful story, Jesus made clear how boundless was the love of God for people who sought to serve him. The elder son represented those who were sincere in their concern for obeying the Law of Moses, but regarded all as merit and reward, work and return. In the words of the parable, “You were always with me and everything I have is yours.”

But for the prodigal son, like the single sheep who was lost from the ninety-nine, there was also a place in the infinite realm of God’s love. He was not worth much, but he did the one thing that gave great joy to God. He had a good look at himself, saw the sort of sinful fool he was, and then pulled himself up out of the mess that he had made of his life without the Lord.

In all literature, is there any description of joy as vivid as Christ’s description of this father’s joy? He couldn’t even wait until his son got to the house, but ran to meet him while he was still a great way off. He was so happy he could scarcely contain himself; he put his arms around this dirty ragged scarecrow of a boy and kissed him. He poured himself out in joy; there was music and feasting and wonderful gifts. And the words of sheer poetry that sprang from him, twice repeated, rang out like all the trumpets of heaven shouting for joy: “For my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and now is found!” So it is with God when every lost soul returns home to the Heavenly Father.

The love of our Creator for just one sinner will always be to us one of the greatest mysteries. Again and again the Savior tries to make us understand how this gives joy to God. We have to try and grasp this fact: we can—and do—give joy to God that is beyond our understanding!

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In Beautiful Chino Valley, Arizona