A parable is a figure of speech, an extended metaphor, a story using common actions or circumstances designed to illustrate a spiritual truth, a principle, or a moral lesson. The word parable comes from the Greek word parable, which means to place beside or side by side for the purpose of comparison. A parable can usually be identified by the use of the word “like.” This was the method of teaching Jesus used most often.
Certainly most Christians are familiar with the parable of the prodigal son. Many people relate to this story because it expresses their own life story in many aspects. The young man or woman leaves home (or perhaps the church), falters, falls and fails, returns home, or comes back to God to ask forgiveness, and is lovingly reconciled. Although very well-known, God’s Word is unlimited in its depth, and there is always something more to learn from it.
Luke 15:11-32 is where this parable can be found, and it appears in no other Gospel. A man had two sons. When the younger son asked for his share of the inheritance, the father divided his living between both of his sons. The younger one took off and proceeded to waste all of the money on pleasures. When he ran out, a famine occurred in the land and he was pitifully unprepared. He took the lowest job of feeding pigs, unclean animals according to the law. Soon he was so hungry he seriously considered eating the pig’s food. It took this level of squalor to wake him up to the reality of his situation.
The Scripture (15:17) says, “…he came to himself.” Phillips says, “Then he came to his senses…” The New Century Version says, “When he realized what he was doing…” and the New International Reader’s Version renders it, “Then he began to think clearly again.” A frequently repeated quotation is: “Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment.” Standing in the middle of hog slop the young man had his “aha! moment.”
He made the decision to return to his father, acknowledge the error of his ways, and ask to work as a hired servant. He likely felt foolish, ashamed and maybe afraid. He might have considered that his father would be angry and reject him. He decided that he had nothing to lose, and life couldn’t get much worse than it was with the pigs.
S the prodigal son started home. “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” His father had been looking down the road day after day, longing for his return. When the father saw him, he had no thoughts of anger and no words rehearsed to reprimand his son. He would not even let his son finish his confession. The father asked the servants to bring fresh, clean garments, and prepare a feast, and the merriment began.
Like the first two parables in Luke 15, when the lost sheep or the lost coin is found, representing a lost person, “…there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” To repent, Biblically, means to have a genuine change of heart and life from worse to better. This is always a cause for rejoicing.
There is more to this story. In prickly contrast to the father’s readiness to forgive was the older son, irate when he found out the reason for the revelry. Again, the father sought out his son. The father pleaded with the son, and the son voiced his complaint to his father. “These many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.”
The older brother might represent the faithful believer who always did what he was supposed to do. To see the wasteful one get all the attention made him angry, maybe because he felt that he deserved to be rewarded for his own consistent obedience rather than making merry over the return of the limping loser, his blundering brother.
The father’s response should speak loudly to the faithful ones. “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”
The faithful have daily access to God and His limitless goodness, and the restoration of any returning one is reason for rejoicing. It is vital to have Jesus’ heart of compassion for anyone lost in the wilderness of the world. Reach out and rescue the wayward ones, and have a party.