Luke 15 - John Conrad
Luke 15 is a much-loved Bible chapter. In it Yeshua (Jesus) responds to some religious leaders’ accusations that he associated with “tax collectors and sinners.” To justify his behavior, he tells three stories.
The first story tells of a man who owns a hundred sheep and loses one of them. He scours the countryside until he locates the wayward ovine. Rejoicing, he carries the lost sheep home on his shoulders and restores it to the flock. So great is his joy that he calls his neighbors and friends together to help celebrate the restoration of the lost sheep.
The second story concerns a woman who possesses 10 silver coins but loses one. She lights a lamp and turns the house upside down in her search. When she finds the lost coin, like the sheep owner, she calls her friends and family together to rejoice in her good fortune.
The third and final story is much more complex. A Father with two sons is confronted by his younger son who asks prematurely for his share of the inheritance. Amazingly the Father caves to his demand and grants him his share of the estate. Not long after the younger son leaves with his newfound resources and goes to a distant country. There he squanders his inheritance in “wild living.” Of course, after a while both money and friends disappear. Now completely destitute he hires himself out to a citizen of this distant country to feed his pigs. His desperate condition is illustrated by not even being allowed to share in the pigs’ feed.
Suddenly he comes to his senses. He realizes that his Father’s servants are in far better condition than he is. Turning toward home he rehearses his speech, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired laborers.” However, while still a long way off his Father sees him and runs to embrace him. He ignores the son’s pity-party speech and commands the servants to prepare the fatted calf for a great feast. He puts a ring on his son’s finger, sandals on his feet and clothes him in his best robe.
The clamor of the celebration alerts the older son as he comes in from working in the fields. When told the reason for the celebration he refuses to come in. After his father comes to personally invite him to the party he angrily barks “Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you never gave me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.” The story concludes with the father’s response. “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”
Very often the story of the so-called prodigal son is told without recognizing that it is a story that is a part of two other stories—the lost sheep and the lost coin. The stories trumpet the fact that God and heaven rejoice when sinners repent and change their ways. God and heaven’s response to repentance is basically identical as portrayed in the three stories. It is God’s perfect will that none perish and all be restored to Him.
However, there are some differences that are often overlooked. A sheep that wanders off finds itself separated from its comrades. Anyone that has worked with herd or flock animals knows this fact—these kind of animals hate to be separated from the group. When they are, it is accidental and not intentional. A cow that is in a separate pen from its herd mates will often frantically race around the pen and try to escape. They might even attempt to destroy the pen in an effort to return to the fold. Thus when the shepherd goes looking for the lost sheep, he is apt to find a sheep that is sorry for wandering off and desperately desires to be reunited to the group. The words for sin in both Hebrew and Greek can be described as “missing the mark.” When one misses the mark, it usually means one was aiming for it. The sheep wandered from the fold but desired to be with the fold. In the story it is apparent that the sheep welcomes the shepherd’s intervention and willingly returns to its flock.
The story of the coin is a little different. A coin has value to the woman of the house but really no will of its own. The coin is an object not really a sentient individual. The point of this story seems to be the desire of the woman to have all of her coins and to not lose any of them. She rejoices when the lost coin is found and restored to its original position.
The story of the Prodigal Son is unique as compared to the other two stories. He is not lost, he is not an unthinking object, he does not miss the mark. He is not aiming for the mark. He brazenly rebels against his Father’s ways and his house. He takes what is his and leaves. His actions seem to be described in Numbers 15:30 as the “defiant” or “high-handed” sin. In this defiant condition there is no “offering” for his sin—he is cut off from his Father’s house. His action is one of rebellion not missing the mark or getting lost.
This is apparent in the story. The Father never quits loving his son but he definitely does not go looking for him. With both the sheep and the lost coin the owner goes looking for what was lost and thoroughly searches until they are found. Surely the Father yearns to have his son come home. However, the son must come to his “senses” on his own and turn around and return under his own power. The minute the Father sees his repentance he rushes to greet him and restores him as his son and rejoices over his return. There is no forgiveness for defiant sin. Repentance only occurs when the defiance is recognized and completely disowned. One must completely walk away from defiance and rebellion.
Readers are often puzzled by the older son’s anger at his brother’s return. One might be forgiven for thinking that the older brother sees his returned sibling as a competitor and not as family. Interestingly, the Father reminds the older brother “all that is mine is yours.” This appears to say that the older brother is still in possession of the inheritance. My opinion is that the story is not really over until the two brothers reconcile. The younger brother has been welcomed home and reinstated as the Father’s son but there would be no inheritance if the older son had not stayed home and remained faithful. This is all conjecture and we really can’t know for sure. My sense is that we really don’t enjoy our inheritance in the Kingdom until we make peace with the other members of that Kingdom.
What we do know is that our heavenly Father rejoices when his children turn back to him. There are times he comes looking for us and other times when we have to come to our senses and turn back to Him. In every case He is always eager and willing to save. Yeshua’s willingness to hobnob with all types of people is evidence of the Father’s propensity to restore and to save. Like any parent, our Father is looking for excuses to save us not reasons to disown us. As Shakespeare so aptly said, “That in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation. We do pray for mercy.” These stories remind us that we have a merciful Father.
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