1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.2 And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." 3 So he told them this parable: 4 "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.' 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 "Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.' 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
11 And he said, "There was a man who had two sons; 12 and the younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. 15 So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, `How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."' 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 But the father said to his servants, `Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; 23 and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; 24 for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry.
25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. 27 And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.' 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, `Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!' 31 And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"
Meditation: If you lost something of great value and
importance to you wouldn't your search for it until you found it?
The joy of finding a lost loved one, a precious member of your fold,
and your hard earned savings to feed your hungry family are vivid
illustrations which Jesus uses to describe what God's kingdom is
like. God the Father does not rejoice in the loss of anyone. He
earnestly searches for the lost until they are restored and joyfully
united with the whole community of heaven. Jesus told these three
parables right after the scribes and Pharisees, the religious elite
among the Jews, expressed disapproval with Jesus' close contact with
people of bad reputation.
Sinners were drawing near to hear Jesus
Luke in his Gospel account tells us that "tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus speak" (Luke 15:1). Wealthy tax collectors were despised by the Jews because they often forced the people to pay much more than was due. And sinners, like prostitutes and adulterers, were a scandal to public decency. The scribes and Pharisees took great offense at Jesus because he went out of his way to meet with tax collectors and public sinners and he treated them like they were his friends. The Pharisees had strict regulations to avoid all contact with them, lest they incur ritual defilement. They were not to entrust money to sinners of bad repute, or have any business dealings with them, or trust them with a secret, or entrust orphans to their care, nor accompany them on a journey, nor give their daughter in marriage to any of their sons, nor invite them as guests or be their guests. They were quite shocked to see Jesus speaking with sinners and even going to their homes to eat with them.
Finding and restoring what has been lost
Why were many tax collectors and sinners drawn to Jesus? Jesus offered them forgiveness, mercy, and healing and the promise of full restoration with God the Father and the whole community of heaven - God's kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy. When the Pharisees began to question Jesus' motive and practice of associating with sinners of ill-repute, Jesus responds by giving them a three-fold lesson in the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (Luke 15:4-32).
What is the point of Jesus' story about a lost sheep and a lost coin? In Jesus' time shepherds normally counted their sheep at the end of the day to make sure all were accounted for. Since sheep by their very nature are very social, an isolated sheep can quickly become bewildered and even neurotic, and become easy prey for wolves and lions. The shepherd's grief and anxiety is turned to joy when he finds the lost sheep and restores it to the fold.
The housewife who lost a coin faced something of an economic disaster, since the value of the coin would be equivalent to her husband's daily wage. What would she say to her husband when he returned home from work? They were poor and would suffer greatly because of the loss. Her grief and anxiety turn to joy when she finds the coin that she had misplaced.
Restoring the lost to the community of faith
Both the shepherd and the housewife "search until what they have lost is found." Their perseverance pays off. They both instinctively share their joy with the whole community. The poor are particularly good at sharing in one anothers' sorrows and joys. What was new in Jesus' teaching was the insistence that lost sinners must be sought out and not merely mourned for their separation from God and the community of the just. God does not rejoice in the loss of anyone, but desires that all be saved and restored to fellowship with him. That is why the whole community of heaven rejoices when one sinner is found and restored to fellowship with God. Seekers of the lost are much needed today. Do you persistently pray and seek after those you know who have lost their way to God?
A broken family and grieving father
Jesus told another parable about a Father who loses his son. This parable is a story in three parts. The first part of the story focuses on the restless behavior of the younger son who wants to leave home to get away from his father. He offends his father by demanding that his share of the father's inheritance be handed over to him right away, rather than waiting for the time appointed for passing on the inheritance after the the father has either passed away or has retired from the management of the family estate.
The second part of the story focuses on the extravagant and magnanimous character of the father who loves his younger son very dearly and generously gives his undeserving son whatever he asks for. He yields to his son's ill-timed request for his share of the family's wealth. The father must have grieved over his son's decision to leave him and go off to spend his share of the inheritance while he is still young and ill-prepared to manage such a large sum of money without acting foolishly and getting into serious trouble. Instead of resenting his younger son's disrespectful behavior and rejection, he maintains unbroken love for his son while he longs and searches for any sign of his return.
The third part of the story focuses on the older son who resents his younger brother for running off with his portion of the inheritance and he also resents his father's outrageous generosity and mercy towards the younger son.
The lost son "came to his senses"
Why did the younger son decide to return to his father's home? Jesus said "he came to his senses" when disaster followed his reversal of fortune and loose living (Luke 15:17). He had lost all of his inheritance on wasted spending, and was barely surviving on what would have been a most shameful job for Jews - feeding swine which Jewish law regarded as unclean and unfit for eating. And to make matters worse, the younger son was now on the point of starving to death since famine had struck the land. He was desperate to stay alive and avoid a painful slow death. His only hope was that his father might take pity on him and let him return home, no longer as a worthy son, but as a hired servant instead.
The foolish son who had shamefully disinherited his father, knew he no longer deserved to be treated like a son. But he also knew that his father was merciful and kind. The son who was now a poor beggar wanted to return home to beg his father's forgiveness. Before the son could reach home, the father who had been searching daily for him, ran to meet him as soon as he recognized his presence on the road leading to his home. And then the father does the unthinkable - he treats his rebellious son, not with cold reserve, hot anger, or just condemnation, but with warm tender affection and tears of joy - and then restores him beyond his wildest dreams.
The father's extravagant love and mercy
What is the main point or focus of the parable of the lost (prodigal) son? Is it the contrast between an obedient and a disobedient son? Or is it a contrast between the warm reception given by a generous and forgiving father or the cold and aloof reception given by the eldest son who wanted to have nothing to do with his rebellious brother? Jesus contrasts the father's merciful love with the eldest son's harsh rejection of his errant brother and his refusal to join his father in welcoming his brother back home.
While the errant son had wasted his father's money, his father, nonetheless, maintained unbroken love for his son. The son, while he was away, learned a lot about himself. And he realized that his father had given him love which he had not returned. He had yet to learn about the depth of his father's love for him. His deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed on the husks of pigs and his reflection on all he had lost, led to his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father. While he hoped for reconciliation with his father, he could not have imagined a full restoration of relationship. The father did not need to speak words of forgiveness to his son - his actions spoke more loudly and clearly! The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet symbolize the new life - pure, worthy, and joyful - of each and every person who returns to the merciful embrace of the waiting Father in heaven.
The prodigal could not return to the garden of innocence, but he was welcomed and reinstated as a beloved son. The errant son's dramatic change from grief and guilt to forgiveness and restoration express in picture-language the resurrection from the dead and a rebirth to new abundant life with God the Father through his beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Contempt and pride lead to division - mercy and forgiveness restores and unites
The parable of the prodigal son also contrasts mercy and forgiveness with their opposites - an unwillingness to forgive and to be reconciled. The father who had been wronged, was forgiving and merciful towards the younger son who recognized his need for forgiveness. But the eldest son, who had not been wronged, was unforgiving and refused to be reconciled with his brother. His refusal to forgive turns into contempt and pride. And his resentment leads to his isolation and estrangement from the community of forgiven sinners.
In this parable Jesus gives us a vivid picture of God the Father and what his character and attitude towards us is like. God is truly generous, kind, and forgiving towards us. He does not lose hope or give up when we stray from him and his commandments. He searches our hearts to show us where true love and mercy can be found and he lead us back to the way of everlasting joy and happiness (Psalm 139:1, 23-24). God the Father always rejoices in searching out those who have strayed and he welcomes them home with open arms. Do you know the joy of your heavenly Father who welcomes you home to his kingdom of everlasting righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit?
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your holy Spirit from me.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth your praise.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Daily Quote from the Early Church Fathers: The Father redeems his son with a kiss, by Peter Chrysologus (400-450 AD)
"'He fell on his neck and kissed him.' This is how the father
judges and corrects his wayward son and gives him not beatings but
kisses. The power of love overlooked the transgressions. The
father redeemed the sins of his son by his kiss, and covered them
by his embrace, in order not to expose the crimes or humiliate the
son. The father so healed the son's wounds as not to leave a scar
or blemish upon him. 'Blessed are they,' says Scripture 'whose
iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered' (Romans
4:7)."(excerpt from SERMON 3)
[Peter Chrysologus, 400-450 AD, was a renowned preacher and bishop of Ravena in the 5th century]