...spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant. "prodigal habits die hard" (Oxford Dictionary)

...a person who is wasteful of his or her money, possessions, etc.;
 spendthrift: In later years, he was a prodigal of his fortune. (


The Deepest Bond known to man is
Not Mother and Infant, Not Man and Wife in Marriage,
Not Mentor and Disciple, Not Best Friends, Not Employer and Employer
--- But it's the Bond Between God the Father and Son Jesus Christ
The mirror image is evident, or ought to be, in every family.

The Deepest Bond

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

‘Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure heap; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!

The Lost Things

Lost Sheep: Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

Lost Coin: Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

Lost Son: Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’ (Luke 15)

James Tissot – The Return of the Prodigal Son (Le retour de l'enfant prodigue) – Brooklyn Museum

Wikipedia Notes: The parable begins with a man who had two sons, and the younger of them asks his father to give him his share of the estate. The implication is the son could not wait for his father's death for his inheritance, he wanted it immediately. The father agrees and divides his estate between both sons.

Upon receiving his portion of the inheritance, the younger son travels to a distant country, where he indulges in extravagant living. It's implied that he drinks, gambles, and sleeps with prostitutes, during this time. However, it isn't long before he has exhausted all his money, and immediately thereafter, a famine strikes the land; leaving him desperately poor. He is forced to take work as a swineherd (which would have been abhorrent to Jesus' Jewish audience, who considered swine unclean animals) where he reaches the point of envying the food of the pigs he is tending to. At this time, he finally comes to his senses:.

And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 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.— Luke 15:17–20

This implies the father was hopefully watching for the son's return.

The son starts his rehearsed speech, admitting his sins, and declaring himself unworthy of being his father's son, but in most versions of Luke, the son does not even finish, before his father accepts him back wholeheartedly without hesitation as the father calls for his servants to dress the son in the finest robe available, get a ring for his finger, and sandals for his feet, and to slaughter the "fatted calf" for a celebratory meal.

The older son, who was at work in the fields, hears the sound of celebration, and is told by a fellow servant about the return of his younger brother. He is not impressed, and becomes angry. He also has a speech for his father:

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: but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. — Luke 15:29–30.

The parable concludes with the father explaining that while the older son has always been present, and everything the father owns also belongs to the older son, because the younger son had returned, in a sense, from the dead, celebration was necessary:

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. — Luke 15:32, KJV

The Prodigal Son, a 1618 painting by Rubens of the son as a swineherd
Engraving of the Prodigal Son as a swineherd by Hans Sebald Beham, 1538.

The opening, "A man had two sons" is a storyteller's trope and would immediately bring to mind Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, and Jacob and Esau. Jesus then confounds the listeners' expectations when the younger son is shown to be foolish. While a number of commentators see the request of the younger son for his share of the inheritance as "brash, even insolent" and "tantamount to wishing that the father was dead,"Jewish legal scholar Bernard Jackson says "Jewish sources give no support to [the idea] that the prodigal, in seeking the advance, wishes his father dead." The young man's actions do not lead to success; he squanders his inheritance and he eventually becomes an indentured servant, with the degrading job of looking after pigs, and even envying them for the carob pods they eat. This recalls Proverbs 29:3: "Whoever loves wisdom gives joy to his father, but whoever consorts with harlots squanders his wealth."

Upon his return, his father treats the young man with a generosity far more than he has a right to expect. He is given the best robe, a ring for his finger, and sandals for his feet. Jewish philosopher Philo observes:

Parents often do not lose thought for their wastrel (asotos) children.… In the same way, God too…takes thought also for those who live a misspent life, thereby giving them time for reformation, and also keeping within the bounds His own merciful nature.

The Pesikta Rabbati has a similar story:

A king had a son who had gone astray from his father on a journey of a hundred days. His friends said to him, 'Return to your father.' He said, 'I cannot.' Then his father sent word, 'Return as far as you can, and I will come the rest of the way to you.' So God says, 'Return to me, and I will return to you.'

The older son, in contrast, seems to think in terms of "law, merit, and reward," rather than "love and graciousness." He may represent the Pharisees who were criticizing Jesus.

The last few verses of the parable summarize the tale in accordance with the Jewish teaching of the two ways of acting: the way of life (obedience) and the way of death (sin). God, according to Judaism, rejoices over and grants more graces to repentant sinners than righteous souls who don't need repentance.

Comment: Jewish society is Patriarchal to this day. In the account of the Prodigal Son there is no mention of his mother. In Western Culture sons these days often fear their fathers. An estranged son goes first to his mom. She then pleads with the father. Many speak out about the abuses found in patriarchal societies. The traditional Biblical view is much more wholistic, and Women in the Bible (Wikipedia).

The Return of the Prodigal Son (Leonello Spada, Louvre, Paris)

Ray Stedman on the Prodigal Son

The parable of the lost son is the most famous of all our Lord's illustrations. Probably no parable our Lord ever uttered is more pertinent to the times in which we live than this, the story of a rebellious boy. Each day we are confronted with new crises arising from what is called "the rebellious generation." Every news medium flashes before us reports of the insistent demands of the young for "Freedom, now!" We hear on every side the cry for the overthrow of old ways, the call for the destruction of the establishment, and a summons to defiance of all authority. Many workers from college campuses reported to me this past week what the radical elements on the campuses are saying. They are openly advocating that students pay no attention to anything they have learned from their parents. They tell them that parents are completely and totally wrong and urge them not even to bother to tell parents they are wrong but just to ignore them. Our present generation, perhaps more than any for many centuries, is under tremendous pressure to flaunt authority, to overthrow the old ways, to rebel against parental authority, and to destroy the landmarks of the past.

There is no better place in the world to discuss this kind of problem than right here. This is where it ought to be faced. In a congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ all kinds of people are present: the young, the old, the weak, the strong, the rich, the poor, all colors, all backgrounds, all experiences of life. We gather here not to air our own points of view but to listen to God's viewpoint. Some of the young present are sympathetic with what is going on today -- and not without good reason. Some of us who are older likewise have sympathy for it, yet we feel also a sense of fear and dread of the possibilities that might result from the revolt that seethes beneath the surface of the cities of our land. There is no one here who cannot but be helped by seeing the rebellious as God sees them. That is what this parable brings before us.

This parable falls into three movements. There is, first, the departure of the son; then his awakening in the far country; and finally, the joy of the father. Now the first movement,

And he said, "There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything." (Luke 15:11-16 RSV)

In this section of the story, Jesus deliberately sets before us two remarkable things. One is the freedom this young man sought, and the other is the freedom he actually found. There is not one of us who does not know how this young man felt while he was living at home. We all know the sense of oppressive authority and the revolt that seethes within against it. We have all had a sense of being held down, restrained, under leash. In the innocent conceit of youth, it is easy for this young man to think that he has already arrived at the place where he is able to handle his own affairs fully and completely. He was undoubtedly approaching that time and he chafes under the restraint of his father, murmuring and grumbling to himself.

It is clear that this boy's idea of freedom is that of so many young people today -- the opportunity to do what you want to do. You can almost hear what he says to himself, "Oh, if I could just go where I want to go and do what I want to do, to go and come back as I please, and not have to answer to anyone. If I could just let my passions have their fling and satisfy myself whenever I like and not be under any law or any rules. If I could be my own boss, and answer to no one. What a great life that would be!" Further, his thought would be, "Why wait for it? It's going to come sometime soon anyhow. Soon I'll be on my own; soon I'll make my own decisions, so why wait? Why not now?"

So he came to his father and said, "Father, you know that soon I'm going to be of age. You've already told me that when I come of age you'll give me a share of your property. But I want it now. Give me the share that belongs to me, and let me take it now." Doubtless his father tried to reason with him. He said to him, "Son, do you really think you have no freedom now? Don't you see that you have a great deal of freedom? Plenty of it? Can't you see that I've given you a great deal of responsibility, and there is much more to come? And don't you understand that you have the run of the house and all this property, and that you are answerable in this home only to me? You don't need to report to anyone else; there is only one to whom you are under obligation."

But it is all to no avail. The boy is determined to have his way. So at last the father gives him his share of the property, and the boy gathers up all his possessions and takes his way into the far country. At first he is sure that he has done the right thing. He rents a home with a great view, and furnishes it with taste. He begins to make friends everywhere, of both sexes. He spends money with a lavish hand, and tries anything and everything, especially those things which had formerly been forbidden him.

Strangely enough, soon everything seems to be mysteriously changed. His body becomes the vehicle of wild passions that sometimes frighten him with their intensity. His health begins to suffer, and he finds that he often wakes up with a dark brown taste in his mouth. He no longer feels vital and alive as he once did. His money begins to dwindle and with it his friends go. He is no longer able to keep up with the expensive crowd he first chose. They leave him in the lurch as soon as his money is gone, and he must seek other friends. He finds that he cannot stand to be alone but must always find some amusement or diversion.

At last hard times hit the country. His money is gone, and now he has to get a job. But because he had not stayed with his father long enough to complete any skill or training, the only job he can get is manual labor, and even that is hard to find. Finally he ends up with a job feeding pigs. There, in the pigsty with an empty purse and an empty belly, he begins to take stock of his empty life.

That brings us to the second movement of the story:

"But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."' And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'" (Luke 15:17-21 RSV)

Perhaps the most hopeful sentence in this story is the phrase with which this section is introduced, "But when he came to himself." (Years ago I heard a very eloquent black preacher speaking on this parable. He was illustrating what happened to the prodigal son in the far country. He said, "As his money disappeared he had to sell his clothes in order to eat. He took off his shoes and sold those. Then he took off his coat and sold that. Then he took off his shirt and sold that. And then he came to himself!")

Our Lord is saying that no one who is in rebellion is ever himself. He is living in a dream world, a world of fantasy, unreality. But now at last the boy begins to see himself exactly as he is. Reality breaks through. When he takes stock of his life he discovers that his is chained to his urges. His passions have so developed within him that he has to satisfy them in any way he can. Yet even when he does so, they are not satisfied.

A high school boy said to me some time ago, "I don't know what's the matter with me. I see a girl, and I say to myself, 'If I could just go with that girl, I'd be the happiest guy on earth!' And then I meet her, and go out with her. We go together for awhile, and then I find myself saying, 'If I could just get rid of this girl I'd be the happiest guy on earth!'"

In our story the boy finds that he is chained to his homesickness. He cannot forget his home, so he must keep himself amused and diverted, his attention engaged. He cannot stand to be alone. Every time he comes into the house he switches on the TV or the radio, anything to keep him occupied. He finds he is chained to his degrading work. He does not like it; he hates it. There is nothing appealing about it, nothing challenging in it, but it is all he has to keep himself alive, and he has got to stay with it. He must do something to live. Further, he finds himself subject to a man who cares nothing about him, who uses him as a mere tool to get his work done, but has no interest in him as a person.

One day the realization hits him with full force. If he cannot avoid certain things, but must do other things, then he is no longer free! Above everything else he wanted to be free. He sought for freedom and longed to find it, was ready to sacrifice anything to gain it. Now he knows that he is the least free of all men. And he suddenly realizes that this has been true for a long time; he knew it inwardly even when he still had money. Others thought he was carefree, able to do what he wanted, but inside he knew that the chains were beginning to draw around him and his freedom was a lie. That was his first realization, that he had no freedom at all.

Second, as he sat among the pigs in the pigsty, he realized that all the things that he once had, he had gotten from his father. His possessions, his money, his clothes, his food, his drink, even his very body, the passions of which he had unleashed. He had gotten them all from him. He had been living on the capital of another, and had made no investment himself.

Then a third thing hit him. He realized that everything he now wanted -- even needed -- was to be found only in the father's house. That is where true freedom lay. As he looked back on those days with his father, he realized that there was freedom. That was when he was the most free. That was when he could be what he wanted to be. That was when he could fulfill the dreams of his heart, and when he still had his health and his chastity. And even now the things he wanted and needed were in the father's house. He yearned for food, for he was hungry, but the only place he knew where he could get it was in the father's house. He yearned for friends and for companionship. He was all alone and no one gave him anything; but there it all was, waiting in the father's house. He yearned for significance, for some way to redeem his ruined life. The only chance he could think of was to go back to his father.

The fourth thing that came to him, as he sat in the pigsty, was that he had lost all claim upon his father. He could not go back after he had been so smart, so sure that he was right, and say to his father, "Father, I've come back to be your son." He realized he had lost his right to sonship. So he thought up a little speech that he would make. Jesus tells us what it is: He said to himself, "I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.'" He reasoned, "Even the hired servants in my father's house have something to eat, and they have spare time in which to enjoy themselves. They're better off than I by a long ways. I haven't the gall to go back to be my father's son again, but I'll go back and be his hired servant." So he rose to return to the father.

Now this last realization to which he came is really very important. There are some who have suggested that this boy need not have come back saying what he said; that he could have come back and said to his father, "Father, here I am, and you ought to be glad I went for I grew more mature in the far country. The experience of evil which I've been through has made a man of me. Now I've come back to be your son, and you can be glad that I tried the far country." One writer even goes so far as to suggest that he urge his older brother to go to the far country, that he might sin a bit and thus grow up to be a man! But you find that there is nothing of that here; nothing at all.

I am sure that if this boy had said that, the father would have still welcomed him back. The father loved this boy, and he would have still put on him the robe, the ring, and called for the fatted calf. But the problem would have been the son would have been unable to forgive himself. The torments inside would have remained. His conscience would have gone on accusing him, and, wracked with guilt, he could not have assumed again the position of a son.

I run into many people like that. They have never been able to forgive themselves because they have never taken the position this boy took. They have never realized that they have no claim whatsoever upon God, upon his love or grace.

That is why Jesus tells us this story. He wants us to see how this boy is set completely free. When he comes back to the father, he comes without any justification whatsoever. There is simply the acknowledgment that he has no claim and that all is up to the father. Then we come to the third movement of the story:

"But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry." (Luke 15:22-24 RSV)

Here is the joy of the father. What a happy note to end on -- for everyone but the fatted calf! The father's joy is unrestrained. He sees the lone figure on the horizon and runs to meet him. He throws his arms about him and kisses him. The boy starts his little speech, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son." The father knows what he is going to say next and he stops him, does not let him say it, but cries, "Bring quickly the best robe -- and a ring -- and prepare the fatted calf." He calls for the robe, the mark of sonship. He calls for a ring, the sign of authority. And he calls for a feast, the display of honor. In other words he puts this boy right back into the full relationship of a son within the family circle. He begins to honor him and treat him as a grown son.

Now, how can this father be so joyful? There were many years in my life when I read this parable and could understand fully the feeling of this boy. I too had been a rebellious son, and I knew how he felt; I could identify with him. I knew what the far country was like, and what the joy of coming home was. But now, as I read the parable, I find myself identifying with the father and understanding something of what went on in his heart. Why is this father so joyful, why is he so gloriously happy? It is as he tells us. It is because, in his thinking, the boy had been dead -- but now is alive. He was lost -- but now is found. He had almost given up, he had almost lost hope. These words tell us that behind the joy of the father is the dark background of agony which he endured while this boy was gone.

Dr. Helmut Thielicke's title for his commentary on this parable is not "The Prodigal Son," as we call it, but "The Waiting Father." Many of the commentaries point out that what Jesus is after is not to show us the boy's heart, but the father's. It is a picture of the heart of God. The father's agony began when he first realized that he had to let this boy go. He did not want to. He knew what lay ahead, and he knew it was needless. He knew that he could have spared this boy the heartache, the loneliness, the shame and degradation of the far country; that he could have saved him from these black marks upon his soul. Had the boy been patient, and waited a bit, and allowed his father to work out his purposes, he could have brought him into the full enjoyment of the liberty he sought, but without the heartache, without the shame. Yet the father knew he could not do it without the boy's full cooperation, that, when he had reached this stage of development, the boy must cooperate with him in it. He had to wait, and agree to wait, through the fulfillment of the father's plans. But if he would not wait the father could not force him; he could not make him do it. So there came a time when, with his heart breaking, the father gave the boy the money and let him go.

Then there followed long months and years when reports came filtering back from the far country of what was happening. The older boy heard them also and flings them in the father's face a little later. Every bit of gossip was like a knife wound in the father's heart. His own son, in this kind of state! Each day deepened the ache in his heart, but he never fully gave up looking for him. Though he finally reached the place where he thought the boy would never come back, something within him kept his eyes on the horizon, though every look was a pain, and every pain left a scar.

If we can see the father's agony as Jesus intended us to see it, then we will have the answer to the question many ask about this parable. They say, "Why is there no reference here to the cross? How can Jesus tell the story of a rebellious son, a prodigal boy returning to his father, without a single reference to his own cross and his redemptive love?" The answer is that the agony of this father's heart, running through the background of this story, unexpressed but clearly there, is the picture of the cross. The cross is the expression of God's agony over the rebellion of man. That is what Paul says in Romans 5, "The proof of God's amazing love is this, that when we were yet sinners Christ died for us," (Romans 5:8). Again, to the Corinthians, he says, "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself," (2  Corinthians 5:19 KJV).

There is a mistaken doctrine of the atonement which says that Jesus, upon the cross, was placating the vengeance of an angry God; that he was standing between the poured out wrath of God and man, stopping God from wreaking terrible vengeance upon the rebellion of man. There is some truth in that for it is true that God's justice must be satisfied. But we can never understand the depths of the atonement unless we realize that God's love was expressed in the cross, that God was "in Christ, reconciling the world." Behind the reconciliation is the ache and agony of a Father's heart. "He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all; how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). Is that not the story of the prodigal son?

The final lesson of this story is that there is a new beginning that awaits us in God. There is a full restoration that is ours whenever we stupidly and foolishly rebel. There is not one person here who has not so rebelled and does so even yet. But restoration is only because the Father has already borne the hurt himself. The agony has already reached him. He has quenched the fire of our rebellion in the blood of his Father's heart.

You and I know that we are rebels. There is not one of us who can point the finger at another. We all rebel. We rebel in hypocrisy and cover it over with self-righteousness. We act as though we are good and decent and respectable, but if we admitted the truth, inside there is defiance and flaunting and desiring our own way. We take matters in our own hands and go off into some far country of the spirit. How many times God has healed us and welcomed us back without a word of condemnation. When we have come, saying, "Father, we are not worthy to be your sons. We don't deserve your love and your mercy," he never lets us finish the sentence. Instead, he calls for the restoration of all that was ours, all that he wanted us to have -- the ring, the robe, and the merry feast.

So we cannot point our finger at anyone who lives in rebellion against God. We can only say of them, "They are our kind of people." We can only help them find their way back from the far country. We know well the loneliness of it. We know the agony of it, the heartache of it. We know the emptiness and the longing for significance and love and grace. But this is the message Jesus wants us to learn, and what we are to convey to the world around us -- that God waits to restore fully those who turn back to him.

Those who come like this boy, saying, "Father, I've blown it. I've messed it up. Lord, I don't know how to straighten it out. but you know, and I can only commit myself to you." To that, the Lord Jesus makes clear, God responds as this father did. --Ray Stedman, God and the Rebellious, 1969.

The Great Generational Disconnect

What is the meaning of the Parable of the Prodigal Son?


The Parable of the Prodigal Son is found in Luke 15:11–32. The character of the forgiving father, who remains constant throughout the story, is a picture of God. In telling the story, Jesus identifies Himself with God in His loving attitude toward the lost, symbolized by the younger son (the tax collectors and sinners of Luke 15:1). The elder brother represents the self-righteous (the Pharisees and teachers of the law of Luke 15:2).

The major theme of this parable is not so much the conversion of the sinner, as in the previous two parables of Luke 15, but rather the restoration of a believer into fellowship with the Father. In the first two parables, the owner went out to look for what was lost (Luke 15:1–10), whereas in this story the father waits and watches eagerly for his son’s return. We see a progression through the three parables from the relationship of one in a hundred (Luke 15:1–7), to one in ten (Luke 15:8–10), to one in one (Luke 15:11–32), demonstrating God’s love for each individual and His personal attentiveness toward all humanity. We see in this story the graciousness of the father overshadowing the sinfulness of the son, as it is the memory of the father’s goodness that brings the prodigal son to repentance (Romans 2:4).

Jesus sets the scene for the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11: “There was a man who had two sons.”

The Younger Son

In Luke 15:12, the younger son asks his father for his share of his estate, which would have been half of what his older brother would receive (see Deuteronomy 21:17). In other words, the younger son asked for 1/3 of the estate. Though it was perfectly within his rights to ask, it was not a loving thing to do, as it implied that he wished his father dead. Instead of rebuking his son, the father patiently grants him his request. This is a picture of God letting a sinner go his own way (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Like the prodigal son, we all possess a foolish ambition to be independent, which is at the root of the sinner persisting in his sin (Genesis 3:6; Romans 1:28). A sinful state is a departure and distance from God (Romans 1:21). A sinful state is also a place of constant discontent. In Luke 12:15 Jesus says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” The younger son in the parable learned the hard way that covetousness leads to a life of dissatisfaction and disappointment. He also learned that the most valuable things in life are the things we cannot buy or replace.

In Luke 15:13 the younger son travels to a distant country. It is evident from his previous actions that he had already made that journey in his heart, and the physical departure was a display of his willful disobedience to all the goodness his father had offered (Proverbs 27:19; Matthew 6:21; 12:34). In the foreign land, the prodigal squanders all his inheritance on selfish, shallow fulfillment, losing everything. His financial disaster is followed by a natural disaster in the form of a famine, which he failed to plan for. At this point he hires himself out to a Gentile and finds himself feeding pigs, a detestable job to the Jewish people (Leviticus 11:7). Needless to say, the prodigal must have been incredibly desperate to willingly take such a loathsome position. He was paid so little and grew so hungry that he longed to eat the pig’s food. To top it off, he could find no mercy among the people he had chosen as his own: “No one gave him anything” (verse 16). Apparently, once his wealth was gone, so were his friends. Even the unclean animals were better off than he was at that point.

The prodigal son toiling in the pig pen is a picture of the lost sinner or a rebellious Christian who has returned to a life of sin (2 Peter 2:19–21). The results of sin are never pretty (James 1:14–15).

The prodigal son begins to reflect on his miserable condition, and “he came to his senses” (Luke 15:17). He realizes that even his father’s servants have it better. His painful circumstances help him to see his father in a new light. Hope begins to dawn in his heart (Psalm 147:11; Isaiah 40:30–31; 1 Timothy 4:10).

The prodigal’s realization is reflective of the sinner’s discovery that, apart from God, there is no hope (Ephesians 2:12; 2 Timothy 2:25–26). When a sinner “comes to his senses,” repentance follows, along with a longing to return to fellowship with God.

The son devises a plan of action, and it shows that his repentance was genuine. He will admit his sin (Luke 15:18), and he will give up his rights as a son and take on the position of a servant (verse 19). He realizes he has no right to a blessing from his father, and he has nothing to offer his father except a life of service. Returning home, the prodigal son is prepared to fall at his father’s feet and beg for mercy.

In the same way, a repentant sinner coming to God is keenly aware of his own spiritual poverty. Laying aside all pride and feelings of entitlement, he brings nothing of value with him. The sinner’s only thought is to cast himself at the mercy of God and beg for a position of servitude (1 John 1:9; Romans 6:6–18; 12:1).

The Father

The father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son was waiting for his son to return. In fact, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him” (Luke 15:20). He runs to his wayward son, embraces him, and kisses him. In Jesus’ day, it was not customary for a grown man to run, yet the father runs to greet his son, breaking convention in his love and desire for restoration (verse 20). The returning son begins his prepared speech (verse 21), but his father cuts him off and begins issuing commands to honor his son—the best robe, the best ring, the best feast! The father does not question his son or lecture him; instead, he joyfully forgives him and receives him back into fellowship.

What a picture of God’s love, condescension, and grace! God’s heart is full of compassion for His children; He stands ready to welcome the returning sinner back home with joyous celebration.

The prodigal son was satisfied to return home as a slave, but to his surprise and delight he is restored back into the full privilege of being his father’s son. The weary, gaunt, filthy sinner who trudged home was transformed into the guest of honor in a rich man’s home. That is what God’s grace does for a penitent sinner (Psalm 40:2; 103:4). Not only are we forgiven in Christ, but we receive the Spirit of “adoption to sonship” (Romans 8:15). We are His children, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).

The father’s command to bring the best robe for the returned son is a sign of dignity and honor, proof of the prodigal’s acceptance back into the family. The ring for the son’s hand is a sign of authority and sonship. The sandals for his feet are a sign of his not being a servant, as servants did not wear shoes. The father orders the fattened calf to be prepared, and a party is held in honor of the returned son. Fatted calves in those times were saved for special occasions. This was not just any party; it was a rare and complete celebration.

All these things represent what we receive in Christ upon salvation: the robe of the Redeemer’s righteousness (Isaiah 61:10), the privilege of partaking of the Spirit of adoption (Ephesians 1:5), and feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, prepared to walk in the ways of holiness (Ephesians 6:15). The actions of the father in the parable show us that “the Lord does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:10–13). Instead of condemnation, there is rejoicing for a son who “was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:32; cf. Romans 8:1; John 5:24). Those words—dead and alivelost and found—are terms that also apply to one’s state before and after conversion to Christ (Ephesians 2:1–5). The feast is a picture of what occurs in heaven over one repentant sinner (Luke 15:7, 10).

The Older Son

The final, tragic character in the Parable of the Prodigal Son is the older son. As the older son comes in from the field, he hears music and dancing. He finds out from one of the servants that his younger brother has come home and that what he hears is the sound of jubilation over his brother’s safe return. The older brother becomes angry and refuses to go into the house. His father goes to his older son and pleads with him to come in. “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 15:29–30). The father answers gently: “My son, . . . you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad” (verses 31–32).

The older son’s words and actions reveal several things about him: 1) His relationship with his father was based on works and merit. He points out to his father that he has always been obedient as he’s been “slaving away”; thus, he deserves a party—he has earned it. 2) He despises his younger brother as undeserving of the father’s favor. 3) He does not understand grace and has no room for forgiveness. In fact, the demonstration of grace toward his brother makes him angry. His brother does not deserve a party. 4) He has disowned the prodigal as a brother, referring to him as “this son of yours” (verse 30). 5) He thinks his father is stingy and unfair: “You never gave me even a young goat” (verse 29).

The father’s words are corrective in several ways: 1) His older son should know that their relationship is not based on performance: “My son, . . . you are always with me, and everything I have is yours” (Luke 15:31). 2) His older son should accept his brother as part of the family. The father refers to the prodigal as “this brother of yours” (verse 32). 3) His older son could have enjoyed a party any time he wanted, but he never utilized the blessings at his disposal. 4) Grace is necessary and appropriate: “We had to celebrate” (verse 32).

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law, mentioned in Luke 15:1, are portrayed as the older brother in the parable. Outwardly, they lived blameless lives, but inwardly their attitudes were abominable (Matthew 23:25–28). They saw their relationship with God as based on their performance, and they considered themselves deserving of God’s favor—unlike the undeserving sinners around them. They did not understand grace and were, in fact, angered by it. They had no room for forgiveness. They saw no kinship between sinners and themselves. They viewed God as rather stingy in His blessings. And they considered that, if God were to accept tax collectors and sinners into His family, then God would be unfair.

The older brother’s focus was on himself and his own service; as a result, he had no joy in his brother’s arrival home. He was so consumed with justice and equity (as he saw them) that he failed to see the value of his brother’s repentance and return. The older brother had allowed bitterness to take root in his heart to the point that he was unable to show compassion toward his brother. The bitterness spilled over into other relationships, too, and he was unable to forgive the perceived sin of his father against him. Rather than enjoy fellowship with his father, brother, and community, the older brother stayed outside the house and nursed his anger. How sad to choose misery and isolation over restoration and reconciliation!

The older brother—and the religious leaders of Jesus’ day—failed to realize that “anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him” (1 John 2:9–11).

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of Scripture’s most beautiful pictures of God’s grace. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We are all prodigals in that we have run from God, selfishly squandered our resources, and, to some degree, wallowed in sin. But God is ready to forgive. He will save the contrite, not by works but by His grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:9; Romans 9:16; Psalm 51:5). That is the core message of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Two years ago at this time I was attending Step Closer at Peninsula Bible Church.
On Mothers' Day there were several very moving tributes to a good mom.
On Fathers' Day a few weeks later I was struck by the testimonies about dads.
There were not derogatory but they were all cool and detached.

No Dads These Days

The story of the Prodigal Son as told by Jesus presupposes a godly father.
There is no mention of mom, or other siblings.
The workers may live in the same house or nearby.
In our gentile (pagan) culture, some dads today are very ungodly!
It's very helpful to read all of Luke's gospel to get the big picture.
The References below should be helpful.

Jesus, the Son of God shows us The Father

Jesus said to Philip, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father' Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves. “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ My Father is greater than I. (Luke 14:9--28)


Luke: Forum Class 2006

No Dads These Days?

My Father's House

God and the Rebellious (Ray Stedman)

Manessah, the Prodigal King (Dave Roper)

The Debris Fields of Life

Intimacy with God

The Real New You -- i am who i am


The Deepest Bond

Marriage Archetypes

Wedding Garments

The Great Uncovering 

The Last One Percent

The Emperor’s New Clothes 

The Ultimate Wedding

Made in the Image of God

The Ultimate Wedding

Love and Relationships: Song of Solomon

Keys to the Song of Solomon 

Psalm 45: The Wedding Psalm 

The Story of Two Sisters

Jerusalem: An Adulterous Woman 

The Excluded Ones 

Wikipedia on the Prodigal Son

Correggio Island, Philippines 1995, with Steve Connelly.
Howitzer for sale. 

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 The Temple Mount in Jerusalem

For more information on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, research concerning the location of the First and Second Temples and recent developments there see our separate web site. Maps and history of Jerusalem are brought up to date with MP3 lectures by leading scholars and research papers concerning the location of the Jewish Temples and plans for a Third Temple. Developed with the help of Mike Kollen, Jim Milligan and Norma Robertson.

Early History of the Temple Mount


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