Have you ever lost something valuable? I think one of the most naked feelings is to lose something that is important to you. About four years ago, I was in the Wal-Mart playing around on some of the chairs, trying to find out which ones were the most comfortable ones. I did get some strange looks, but it was worth it. I left the Wal-Mart and got back into the truck and had been going down the road for a couple of minutes when I realized that I did not have my cell phone. I looked all over the truck and could not find it. I decided to go back to the Wal-Mart and find the phone. I went back to the section where the chairs were to see it is was on the floor there and it wasn't. Finally, I gave up looking so I went to the customer service line and just as I was about to get to the front of the line I heard a cell phone ring, playing, "Rocky Top and I was relieved to know that that was my phone. Luckily, someone turned it in. Losing something valuable is never fun, especially when it is gone for good. When we think of losing something, it helps understand our text this morning. Jesus uses three stories where something valuable is lost.
The context in which our Scripture is found begins at the beginning of chapter 15. The text tells us that the tax collectors and sinners are coming out to hear Jesus teach and the Pharisees and the scribes begin to complain. We have already heard them complain a number of times in the Gospel of Luke. Their complaint this time is not much different. They are upset because Jesus hangs out with and accepts sinners. Jesus answers their complaints with three parables.
In the first illustration, Jesus asks the question, "If you had one hundred sheep and one of them was missing, would you not leave the ninety-nine behind and find the one sheep that was missing." Often times, the whole village would keep their sheep together and when one of them would come up missing, the entire village would go out on a rescue mission. When the sheep was found, then the village would come together and through a celebration.
Jesus then gave a second illustration. He asks, if a young woman had ten silver coins and she lost one, would she not take a lamp and sweep every room in the house until she finds it. When she does she will throw a party and celebrate over the one coin that was missing.
The Lost Younger Son
Jesus then tells a parable to illustrate this point further. It is this parable that we will focus in upon. He says there was a father, who had two sons. The younger son comes to him and tells him that he wants his share of the inheritance. Normally, the father waits until he dies or retires to give his inheritance to his sons. In essence, the son is saying, "I wish you were dead, so that I could have this money." The father does something very strange, not only does he give the younger son his share of the inheritance, but he allows him to take his money and leave the family. The son has not only dishonored his father, but has decided he does not want to be a part of the family any more.
The younger son takes his money and goes to a distant land, and spends it on what Jesus says, "Wild living." Just when his money is run out, a great famine sweeps the land and he begins to starve. He finally convinces a local farmer to hire him to feed his pigs and he is so hungry the food he is feeding to the pigs looks tasty. We have a young man who had been with his father and lived the good life. He has come a long way in the wrong direction by this point in the story. He is at his lowest point. He has been forced to do something no good Jew would ever do, that it to feed a pig, which is an unclean animal.
As we are reading through the story, we cannot help but to think one of two things. We can either say he is getting what he deserved. After all, he disgraced his father and then he squandered all of his inheritance on wild living and he deserves to be in this position. Or, we are thinking at this point, "Why does he not just go back home and beg his father to forgive him."
Our scripture tells us that this is exactly what he decides to do. Our text tells us that he came to his senses and decides that even the slaves at his father's house live better than he is. He devises a speech in which he will ask his father if he can be a hired hand and work for his father. So, the younger son heads back home and while he is a long way off, his father sees him coming and runs our to meet him. The father is filled with compassion and embraces him and kisses him. The son begins to tell the speech he has prepared and only gets out the words, "Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy to be your son." The father then calls the servants and says, "Get the finest robe in the house, and get my ring and sandals for his feet." By putting these things on him, the father was restoring him to his place in the family as his son. Then, he said, let's kill the fattest calf, for this son of mine was lost, but is now found. As the New Living Translation says, "So, the party began."
The Lost Older Son
Jesus does not end the story there however. We find out that the father is confronted with another issue, namely his older son. When the older son, who has been working in the field, comes in, he sees a party going on. He asks one of the servants what the party is for and they tell him that his brother has come back home and that his father has killed the fattest calf for him. The older brother becomes angry and refuses to go into the party to celebrate.
At this point it is fair to point out that the younger son has not only wasted his money, but by being allowed back into the family, cuts into the inheritance of the older brother.
We might look at this as if he is pouting, but actually, he is shaming his father by not going into the party as the older son. If you will remember, the younger son has already shamed his father. So what will the father do? He does the same thing he did for the younger son, he goes out and finds him.
When the father goes out and meets the older son, and begs him to come to the party. The older son then says that he has been serving all of this time and that he has never gotten a party thrown for him. He says, "When this son of yours comes back from squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the finest calf." Notice the language he is using. He says, "This son of yours." He never calls his father "father", nor does he claim to be related to his brother. He makes reference to being a servant, not a son.
Tim Keller, in his book The Prodigal God when he says that both sons were lost. He points out that both sons in this parable are lost, just in different ways. The younger son falls into the trap of "self-discovery" while the older brother falls into "moral conformity." In other words, while the younger son is clearly lost, the older son is just as lost even though he appears to be the obedient son.
I believe the older son, even though he has been home the whole time, does not really know his father or the love of his father. I think the older son is just as lost as the younger one was. I also think the older son represents the Pharisees and religious leaders who are asking Jesus why he associates with sinners. Jesus is telling them that they are just as lost as the sinners he associates with because, even though they have never strayed from the letter of the law, they do not know God or God's love.
The Loving Father
I think this story should have a different name. Most people call it the story of the Prodigal Son, but I agree with William Barkley, it should be called the story of the Loving Father. The father's love is the one thing that remains constant. The same love that allowed the younger son to disgrace him and leave the family was the love that met the younger son on the road home and restored him to the family. This is a story of the father allowing his son to be lost in order that he might be found again. Jesus is saying this is the same kind of love God has. If you think about it, God takes a very big risk in allowing us the freedom to make choices other than God. This same love which enables us the freedom to turn away from God, gives us the freedom to come to our senses and to come home. When we do that, we are restored and made children of God.
Bill Cosby once said
Even though your kids will consistently do the exact opposite of what you tell them, you have to keep on loving them just as much. To any question about your response to children's strange behavior, there is really one answer: give them love.
I think Bill Cosby summarizes this passage up until this point quite nicely. Although the younger son did something quite strange and hurtful to his father, the father gave him love and it was this love that brought him back home.
Knowing the Father's Love
When we read this story, we often feel sorry for the younger son, but we look at content towards the older one. I cannot help be feel sorry for him as well. He has been in his Father's house all his life and yet he does not really know the deep love of his father. He may have very honest reasons for not knowing this. It could just be misunderstanding on his part. Maybe something has happened in his past that prevents him from experiencing the warmth of his father's love.
This reminds me of a country music song. A friend of mine had told me about it, and that he thought I should use in a sermon. The name of it is, "I Love You This Much", by Jimmy Wayne. The song is about a kid who grew up only seeing his dad once a year and longing to know that his dad loved him. The chorus says,
"I love you this much and I am waiting on you to make up your mind, do you love me too."
Finally he grows up hating his dad because he has never been a part of his life. He had not only missed out on knowing the love of his dad, but he missed out on knowing the love of his Heavenly Father. Finally when his dad passes away, he is at the front of the church at his dad's casket and the song says,
Half way through the service
While the choir sang a hymn
He looked up above the preacher
And he sadly stared at Him
He said "Forgive me father"
When he realized
That he hadn't been unloved or alone all his life
His arms were stretched out as far as they'd go
Nailed to the cross, for the whole world to know
Just like the Pharisees, this passage is open-ended for us as well. Will we see that God loves us like the father in the story loves both of his sons? We were lost, but now we are fond thanks to the love of God.