Luke 15:11 -32
11Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. 13"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20So he got up and went to his father.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.[a]'
22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.
25"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
28"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But 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. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "
Traditional teachings on this parable focus on the younger son's journey from being lost and destitute to being restored to his father. Christians who rebel in their teens and spend long years separated from God before returning to faith are called 'prodigals' after the younger son in Jesus' teaching. I want to suggest another layer of meaning that I believe is a valid interpretation for the truth that Jesus was attempting to convey regarding 'being lost' and the significance of relationship in our understanding of who God is. Consider that the two sons are simply people who have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and the rest of the story relays their response to the 'inheritance' that we receive through our belief that Jesus took our sin upon himself. The younger son requests his 'inheritance' in advance and proceeds to separate himself from his father and follows the desire of his heart: indulgence in the pleasures of the world. The relationship that the son has had with the father to this point is not powerful or strong enough to influence or alter the desire to embrace the world and squander the gift that the father has bestowed upon him. Similarly, a person who hears and understands the message of redemption through Christ's sacrifice but has no change in their heart or life, has squandered the inheritance and chosen to disregard any relationship with God. Just as the younger son makes a choice of seeking his satisfaction in the "distant country", the unrepentant choose to continue living as if God's offer has never happened or has no value. Many people in churches are deluded into thinking they are saved , when they have had no change in their heart or living. There are churches everywhere with prodigals sitting smugly and attentively every Sunday. No relationship, no change of heart, no living that honors the "inheritance" purchased with the blood of Christ.
The Older Son
Because of the "lostness" and restoration of his brother, the older son is often neglected or ignored in sermons or teachings from this parable. The older son is the faithful one; diligent, respectful, hard working, dependable.
He has done the right things and has always been "good" and in his mind he deserves the "inheritance" that is due him. His problem is that he does not 'know' his father any better than his younger brother does. He believes he has earned his salvation by being good and that he has nothing in common with his wicked brother. His error is that his relationship with his father is based on rules and keeping them and the belief that this gives him merit. This is clearly seen in his response to his brothers return and his disgust with his father's reception for him. He cannot comprehend his father's relief and joy over the return of a lost son; he can only find anger over the inequity of the father's response. He doesn't know the heart of the father and his relationship is transactional, based on a currency of good behavior and anticipated reward. The older son's
response to the 'inheritance' is no better than his younger brother and sadly he is equally lost.
The point that Jesus makes in this parable is that the Father is the focus of the story. He is the source of the 'inheritance' and He bestows it without hesitation or restrictions. He loves his children in their lostness and he anxiously longs for their return and restoration, for relationship, for them to know His heart. He is standing in the door searching the horizon for those who have exhausted themselves with "bad living" and are humbly making their way home.He is patiently watching for the heart change in those who are busy doing their best to be good but who are still missing out on what His heart is really about. He is our refuge and our hope and He has promised an inheritance that we cannot afford to squander.