THE PRODIGAL SON - Luke 15: 11-32.

Christ's parable of 'The Prodigal Son' has two main points to it; the attitude of the Father, towards his wayward son; and the attitude of the elder son, towards his brother.
 
Jesus told the story, to highlight the vast difference between God's mercy, love and grace on the one hand, and the Pharisees hard, judgemental attitudes, on the other hand.
 
He used the figure of the young man's father, to depict God himself: and the attitude of the older brother, to indicate that of the Scribes and Pharisees; with the 'Prodigal Son', representing sinners,
 
The parable states the fundamental principal of God's dealings with sinners; and explains something of Christ s own loving concern for them.
 
We learn from the story, that God loves the sinner; every bit as much before he repents, as afterwards; and that, when the sinner has repented, he or she is fully restored into the family of God.
 
Let us look at the main points to be made, twice; first, in relation to their place in the developing story; and the second time, in relation to their spiritual significance, in the Christian life, today.
 
V.11. There is an assertion of self-will. ‘Father, give me…my share’.
 
In New Testament days, as in our modern culture: it was the customary thing, for there to have been a death, and a bequest, before there could be an inheritance; yet the younger son wanted his share, before it was due.
 
V.13. ‘Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had’.
 
Most of the son's inheritance; would have been made up of land, sheep and cattle. Because he could not have taken these things with him, to that 'far country'; the text encourages us to infer that the young man sold the land, sheep and cattle for spendable cash.
 
If so, this implies that some part of the family estate, has been eroded away, or even completely lost.
 
The 'far' or 'distant' country must have been a long way off, because not only the Jews; but all of the Semitic people, in the countries around; had nothing to do with pigs.
 
The text tells us that, in that far-away land, the young man squandered his wealth in wild living. The word 'squandered' is quite explicit. The wealth has been wasted away, with nothing good to show for it.
When he was penniless; and a famine set in, and he was in great need; he hired himself out to a citizen of that country - but little good came out of looking after the other man's pigs.
 
The younger son 'came to his senses’; realized what a great mess he was in, and entered into a debate with himself.
 
He could see, clearly enough, that he was worse off than the lowest-paid servants in his father's employ; and that there was little or no way that his situation could improve, without going back to his father; asking to be forgiven; and being accepted once more: the alternative to going back home, being to starve to death where he was.
 
He put his thoughts into action; and went home. He received a far greater welcome, than he would have dared to hope for. His father was watching out for him, and saw him coming, while he was still far away.
 
The father; dropping any sense of dignity, that might belong to being the head of the family, and estate; and being full of love and concern; ran to meet his son.
 
He put his arms around him (the text says 'threw' his arms around him; much more emotionally-expressive) and kissed him. In that part of the world, then; and ever since; for a man to kiss another man, on the cheek, is a mark of acceptance.
 
The returned son had hardly begun to explain himself, and to plead his case, when his father waved all that to one side: it just wasn’t necessary. The father had the best robe fetched, and put on his son. The robe was a mark of place, purpose and leadership within the family and the estate.
 
He had a ring put on his son's finger. This would have been a signet ring; and, through wearing it, the son could act in proxy for his father, sealing letters and documents with hot wax, marked with the imprint of the ring.
 
He had sandals put on his son’s feet. Slaves and servants went barefoot, but sons wore sandals.
 
Wealthy households in that day, always had a special animal being brought along, against the day when a special guest arrived, or a feast was called for.
 
In having the 'fatted calf' prepared, he regarded, and treated, his returned son as someone so special, that the occasion just could not be allowed to pass without celebration.
 
The reason for celebrating, was made very plain by the father: ‘This son of mine was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found’.
 
As we read; the older brother became angry, and refused to share in what was going on. He gave his reasons, which had a certain degree of validity, but which could have been put to one side, as he joined in the celebration.
 
The father did not argue a case against the older son's attitude. Instead, he stated his love and care for him; and then went on, to make yet another invitation: ‘We just have to celebrate! Won't you join in?’.
 
Let's look at these points again, from a more spiritual angle.
 
Verse 11: ‘Father, give me my share’. Through the centuries, especially in Victorian times, Christians largely believed that there could be no 'inheritance' until they had 'died and gone to heaven'.
 
However, the parable of 'The Prodigal Son' clearly shows that there can be a receiving of part of the inheritance before physical death.
 
As Jesus taught elsewhere: ‘Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; and will not be condemned, for he has (already) crossed over, from death to life’.
 
For the believer, 'heaven’, and the inheritance of it, begins now.
 
If 'heaven’ begins now; then the Godly qualities that we receive in this life, can be misused, and wasted away; else where lies free will?
 
The ability to waste away the things of God; without the free will to do so, being snatched away from us; is one of the central points made by Christ in his ‘Parable of the Talents'.
 
The Prodigal's father loved him enough to let him go; taking a great part of the family's wealth with him.
 
God, our Father, loves us enough to let us go, even though we may waste the spiritual gifts and graces entrusted to us; and become lost to him.
 
Verse 14 says: ‘After he had spent everything ...’, he began to be in need and, eventually, his father met those needs. Some Christians see this sort of thing as unfair ...
 
... on a 'have your cake, and eat it' basis. The young man had what he wanted, of both the 'things of the world', and the 'things of heaven'; and, surely, that can't be right?
 
To think like this, is to miss the whole point of Christ's teaching about the wideness of God's forgiving love.
 
Verse 17 says: ‘When he came to his senses, he said...’. The 'King James Version’ puts it even better: ‘When he came to himself'’; when those deep-down things of his true nature, triumphed over the lesser things, then he could return.
 
When the son returned to his father, he appeared to be driven by a sense of expediency, based on law and justice: ‘If I do this thing, and say that thing, then such-and-such an outcome might be possible’
 
... but his father was not prepared to debate possible arrangements; based on expediency; for he was driven by love and compassion.
 
God our Father, in the grace of Jesus Christ, is not prepared to discuss issues and arrangements with us; but only to accept us, in love and compassion, and to restore whatever may have become lost to us.
 
The Prodigal's father was watching out for him; saw him while he was still a long way off, and ran to him. God always watches out for those of his children who have strayed, for whatever reason.
 
The father threw his arms around his son, and kissed him. The putting of his arms around him was a sign of welcome; and the kiss was not only a sign of acceptance, but also of restored trust.
 
When any of God's children break trust with their Heavenly Father; and then repent, and are forgiven; God's trust in them is fully restored.
 
The Prodigal's father put the robe of belonging and leadership around his son's shoulders; the signet ring of responsibility upon his finger, and the sandals of son-ship upon his feet.
 
So it is, with God our Father. Just as the Prodigal was placed in a position higher than he had before he went away; into sin; so it can be with forgiven and restored sinners ...
 
... perhaps because the very experience of the severance from God, makes the restored-to-God sinner stronger in understanding and resolve; and, therefore, capable of greater things than before.
 
The joy of the young man's father, and his desire to celebrate, is in keeping with Christ's teaching: ‘There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over 99 righteous persons, who do not need to repent’ (Luke 15:7).
 
The older son took a complaining, judgemental attitude to the whole situation, and refused to join in the celebrations. In Christ's story, the older son represents the Scribes and Pharisees, and their carping, judgemental attitude, to the new things that God was doing through Christ.
 
By refusing to go into the feast, the older son cut himself off from what was going on. By refusing to accept Christ, the Scribes and Pharisees cut themselves off from God's new way of doing things.
 
But the younger son - the 'Prodigal' - became not only a 'new man' through responding to those deep things of true self; and turning back to their source, to God; but he also became entrusted with greater things than before.
 
Is there any way in which our lives, or part of our lives, have been lived in 'a far country'; where we have been rather prodigal in our use of, or waste of, the things of God?
 
If so, how might we turn back to the Lord once more? If we do know our need to turn back, how strong is our resolve to actually do so?
 
Amen.