There’s a lot to unpack in Luke 15 and many miss the context of what’s going on before Jesus told the parables. In verses 1-2, Jesus was seen by the Pharisees and teachers of religious law while He was eating with sinners and notorious people. This led Jesus to share the parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and the Lost Son. But, for many of us, the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32) seems to be the most memorable.
The Lost Son
This parable describes the younger son as prodigal—wasteful, excessive, and reckless. While his father was still alive, he already asked for his inheritance, which led the father to divide his wealth between his two sons. The younger son then went away and wasted his money in wild living (verses 12-13). He was lavish, extravagant, lush, and abundant as he misused his inheritance and lived a life away from his father.
When his inheritance had run out and a famine swept the land, he found work feeding the pigs. In his hunger, even the pods the pigs ate looked appealing because no one gave him anything (verses 13-16).
When he recognizes his desperate need and remembers the provision of his father to his entire household, he remembers the compassion of his father. It motivates him to come back.
“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
The younger son’s realization is a turning point. From being proud, he was humbled. After what he had done, he thought he had no place in his father’s house. He deserved to be treated lower than a servant after what he did. Still, the humbled son decided to come home.
More Than One “Prodigal” in the Story
“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” –Luke 15:20
Most people who would hear, read, or study this parable would initially focus on the son. But the father could also be treated like a prodigal character. Though he knew what his son could do once he got his inheritance, he gave it away anyway. The father was also prodigal about expressing his love and how much he gave his sons.
Despite everything that the younger son had done, he hoped that maybe the son would come home one day. He spent days longing, waiting, looking, and watching. He was yearning to see his son when he saw him from a distance—and ran to meet him!
Back in Jesus’ day, a person’s status in the family was seen by the pace at which they walked. The higher the status, the slower the gait. It was undignified to run to anyone if you were the father of the household. You can take your time walking, and everyone knows that they should wait.
Sometimes, we want to wait for the right moment in our relationships. Parents wait for their children to say the right apology. In marriage, spouses wait for the other to show that they are truly sorry. But in this parable, the father doesn’t even wait for the son to say his rehearsed speech. Instead, he runs to him and embraces him.
The father is the prodigal in the story. Since a parable is a story that aims to show a spiritual lesson, we can say that the Father—our Heavenly Father—is the subject of all three stories. He will search and go out to get that one missing sheep home. He will search high and low to find that precious coin. And He would run to meet His son. That’s why it hurts people so deeply when Jesus-followers who claim to know this kind of love are not extravagant with theirs.
A Lesson on Neighboring
There’s another son in the story–the older son who has been around the whole time, doing the right things.
“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’” – Luke 15:28-30
We’re introduced to the biggest problem of neighboring and compassion—judgment and envy. If you’re part of a household with more than one child, do you ever get jealous or upset if a sibling gets what you didn’t get? Do you ever start to compare? Where do you relate?
In the story, the other brother wouldn’t even go in. The father himself went outside and begged him to come in. The father invited the older son to celebrate as his family reunited. The older son might not realize it, but the father also showed him grace and compassion. He was already given what he needed before he could even ask for it.
While the older son showed judgment and envy, the father showed grace and compassion. Jesus is our example of grace and compassion.
Who do you relate with in the story? If you relate to the young son, remember, even as the church has not shown you God’s grace, God sent His son Jesus to die for your sins and redeem you. You can start your way home.
If it’s the older son, it’s time to put the judgment and envy aside. Recognize your own need for compassion, your own sin, and brokenness. Come indoors and join the celebration. There’s a place for you.
If you feel like the father, greet somebody. Hug them and welcome them home. Then, invite them to the celebration.
Like the people Jesus was dining with and the subjects of the parable, we are all recipients of God’s compassion. His compassion always moves Him to act. It has acted on our behalf. God will always be moved to meet you right where you’re at, wherever you may be in your journey.
This kind of compassion is not something that we must keep to ourselves. Let us ask the Lord to move in us to receive His compassion. Let us allow Him to embrace us and lead us to be compassionate towards others.