In Luke chapter 15, Jesus told the following story:
This extraordinary request by the younger son would have shocked and scandalized the original listeners. The son was asking to receive the portion of the inheritance that he would normally receive upon his father’s death, while his father was still alive and healthy. The listeners would have most likely expected Jesus’ next words to tell of how the father exploded in anger and disciplined his son.
Instead, the father acquiesced and divided the property between the sons. The younger son decided to sell his inheritance for cash, showing no concern for his father’s future and depriving him of a portion of the fruit of the land in his old age.
The older brother, who also received his portion of the inheritance at this time, received possession of the remaining land but not control of it. As the story continues, it becomes clear that the father was still head of the household and the farm.
The younger son’s misfortunes
Jesus then described what happened to the younger son:
Upon leaving his father’s house, the younger son went on to live a wanton and disorderly life, resulting in the loss of all that he had. After he had spent all his funds, a famine arose.
The original listeners would have understood to what depths he had sunk by his job of feeding pigs. Pigs were considered unclean according to the law, and later Jewish writings stated that anyone raising swine was cursed. To make matters worse, he was starving and envious of the pigs’ food. It was at this point that he “came to himself.”
The son decided to return to his father to confess he was wrong and had sinned. Recalling that his father’s “hired servants” had enough to eat, he planned to ask his father to hire him as a servant.
The son had shamed his father before the whole village. It would only be just and right for the father to let the son come to him, walking through the village facing the disapproving stares of the community. But instead, the father, full of compassion, runs to him, something which would have been considered undignified, especially as to do so, he would have to pull up his robe and expose his legs. The father’s first action is to embrace and kiss his son, before he even hears what his son has to say.
The son begins his practiced speech, but the father doesn’t let him finish. He orders his servants to clothe the son in the best robe, to put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet.
Besides conveying a message to the servants and the community, there was a strong message to the son as well. That message was forgiveness. The father’s welcome was an act of undeserved grace. Nothing the son could do would make up for his past. The father didn’t want the lost money; he wanted his lost son.
Preparing such a large animal for a feast implies that likely most if not all of the village would be invited to the feast. And the father exclaimed his joyous reason for feasting:
The older son
At the end of the workday, after the festivities had started, the older son returned from the field. When he heard the circumstances of his younger brother’s welcome, he was furious. The custom at such a feast would be for the older son to act as joint host with his father, but the older brother breaks with protocol and publicly refuses to enter the house and the festivities, and then argues with his father in public:
The older son’s response is filled with disrespect, bitterness, resentfulness, but how does the father react? Exactly the same as he did with his other lost son—in love, kindness, and mercy. He says: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”11
Both sons have a broken relationship with their father which he desires to repair. Both sons need reconciliation and restoration with their father. Both sons receive the same love from the father.
The father’s last statement expresses his joy that the younger son who was lost is now found. “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”12 The listener was left to imagine whether the older brother who was also lost would be found and restored, as we are not told the older son’s response.
This parable tells us something beautiful about God, our Father. He is full of compassion, grace, love, and mercy. Like the father in the story, He lets us make our own decisions, and no matter what those decisions are and wherever they may lead us, He loves us. He wants each one who has wandered away, who is lost, who has a broken relationship with Him, to come home. He waits for them and welcomes them with open arms and great joy and celebration. He forgives, He loves, He welcomes.
Each person is deeply loved by the Father. Jesus laid down His life for every person. God is gracious, full of love and mercy, and He has called us, as His representatives, to do as Jesus did—to love the unlovely and seek out those who are lost, to help restore them, and to respond with joy and celebration when that which was lost is found.
1. Luke 15:11–13. All scriptures are from the ESV.
2. Luke 15:13–14
3. Luke 15:15–16
4. Luke 15:17–19
5. Luke 15:20
6. Luke 15:21–22
7. Luke 15:23
8. Luke 15:24
9. Luke 15:25–28
10. Luke 15:28–30
11. Luke 15:31
12. Luke 15:32