Ironically, it was the father’s blessing that actually “financed” the prodigal son’s trip away from the Father’s face! And it was the son’s new revelation of his poverty of heart that propelled him back into his Father’s arms. Sometimes we use the very blessings that God gives us to finance our journey away from the centrality of Christ. It’s very important that we return back to ground zero, to the ultimate eternal goal of abiding with the Father in intimate communion. – Tommy Tenney
We are all admitted into the Holiest part of the place of worship into God’s presence not because we deserved the blessing but because of God’s mercy, compassion and grace administered to us by the Savior through His sacrifice. And invariably those who are already in start looking at those who are outside with annoyance and condemnation with most vocal objections to their probable entry. The Pharisees and Sadducees joined the Chief Priests and the other Jewish elders in condemning Lord Jesus for His “receiving sinners and eating with them” (Luke 15:2. These scholars of Scripture refused to realize that God came looking for Adam and Eve despite knowing about their disobedience and kept on forgiving the repeated sins and rebellious attitude of the Israelites all along their journey from Egypt and even latter. God led the Israelites out of Egypt with great miracles but they retained Egypt in their hearts, always looking backwards than towards the Savior God.
Prophet Samuel complained to God when the Israelites demanded to have a king “such as all the other nations have” but God patiently accepted their demand after telling Samuel “it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their King” (1 Samuel 7:5 & 7). The parable of the Prodigal Son is generally used to illustrate the compassion and mercy of a loving Father but both the sons abandoning their father for their personal desires and the pain of separation and longing suffered by the father is never mentioned. There are three main characters in the parable and the conduct of each needs proper understanding.
The Prodigal Son – The younger son who as per Jewish Law had minimal inheritance rights yet wanted his portion of the inheritance. He wanted his share minus the responsibility enshrined in the fifth commandment to honor your father which would also imply care of the parents during old age. “We want to be saved from our misery, but not from our sin. We want to sin without misery, just as the prodigal son wanted inheritance without the father. The foremost spiritual law of the physical universe is that this hope can never be realized. Sin always accompanies misery. There is no victimless crime, and all creation is subject to decay because of humanity’s rebellion from God” R.C.Sproul.
The bottomless pit of sinful living does create a state of mental and spiritual numbness from which only the merciful hand of the Savior can pull us out. This process of recovery has three important steps. Firstly, The misery of the son was evidenced in his sinking down to the level of existence of pigs and his realization after ‘finding himself’ from the pit of sinful darkness and about the ‘Father’s abundance’ where even the servants enjoyed a blessed state. The second part is a ‘sense of worthlessness and brokenness’ which finally leads us in to the very presence of the Father from where we ran and the merciful Father is found to be eagerly looking forward to the return of His prodigal son’s return(Luke 15:17-19).
The Elder son and the Pharisees – Lord Jesus repeatedly mentioned that He came to save the sinners for only a sick person needs a physician and anyone who does not know of his sinful state will detest and rebuke anyone providing him unsolicited advice and help. Tax collectors and sinners, realizing their siful ways of living, surrounded Lord Jesus at every public appearance and “the Pharisees and Scribes complained saying “This Man receives sinners and eats with them (Luke 15:1-2). The Greek word translated as receives is ‘prosdechomai’ meaning ‘anxiously waiting to receive’ and our Father too waits in like manner for return of the lost children.
To further clarify His mission Lord Jesus then goes on to cite two examples – one of a sheep out of a herd of one hundred getting lost and the owner leaving the ninety nine to go looking for the lost one. The important point of the illustration is the ‘hoisting of the lost and found sheep on the shoulders’ by the owner without inflicting any punishment. The second is about the loss of a silver coin by a woman and her efforts to look earnestly for the lost coin and in both cases rejoicing over the lost and found ‘treasure’. What was lost on the religious leaders of that time and even today on many is the rejoicing in heaven over one sinner repenting and returning to the Lord and the obvious reward for efforts made towards this end by believers (Luke 15:4-10). The story of the two sons and the ‘Good Father’ follows these two parables.
The Pharisees and Jewish elders had started depending on their own efforts in pleasing God through following ritualistic life styles rather than depending on God for His mercies and grace to change us. The elder son of the father was also proud of his ‘hard work and obedience’ and expecting to be rewarded for this diligence (verse 28). A similar illustration was given again by the Lord about the attitude of two persons offering prayers before God – the Pharisee claiming reward for his “being different from others who are sinners; his fasting twice a week and of giving tithes. Whereas the other, a tax collector, realizing his sinful state surrendering before God and seeking Divine mercy. Lord Jesus confirmed salvation for the second person rather than the first (Luke 18:10-14). Even the criminal on the cross received salvation after accepting his sinful nature and seeking forgiveness and mercy.
The Father’s Goodness – The father in the parable of the Prodigal Son acted out of love for both sons in equal measure. He was probably well aware of the nature and immaturity of the younger one but agreed to give him his nonexistent share – for the inheritance was passed on to the elder son. Knowing his son’s nature, the father kept waiting for the return of the lost son, eyes on the road, and then running out to receive him while he was still quite a distance away. This distance was not only physical but even spiritual for this son also wanted to “serve the father as a hired servant, being unworthy of anything better” (verses 17-19). The good father’s six steps for this son – saw him and had compassion; ran to him, embraced and kissed him in welcome; put on a new robe – of giving a new life removing the filth and stink of his sinful ways; putting a ring on his hand – the ring being authority of the father to be made available; putting on sandals on his feet – thus restoring the right of entry into the house that was surrendered by the wayward son while leaving and finally ordering a celebration to welcome him back (verses 22-24).
The father was equally loving and merciful to his elder son who did not want to go in to join the celebration of the return of his younger brother and took the same six steps towards this son also. Having come to know of his anger the father – came out to him; pleaded with him; acknowledged his relationship with the son; emphasizes his closeness to this son, who remained with him; confirms his inheritance –“all I have is yours” and then goes on to explain his actions to this angry son. The father did not point out his attitude of taking no steps to stop his younger brother from leaving which probably happened because of the elder brother’s arrogance; making no attempts to search for him; never understanding the pain of the father and remaining busy with his own life rather than accepting and performing the responsibilities of being the elder son. The father, on the other hand, still ‘gives his all to him.
How many parents are suffering the loss of sleep over the wayward life style of their children who desire ‘their share’ of everything without accepting their responsibilities towards their parents? Parents suffer shedding silent tears of pain of separation from their loved ones, separation both physical, psychological and spiritual because of their life styles of low morality of today – of substance abuse, sexually irresponsible living, unwed mothers and much more – claimed by the children as a right to live their lives on their terms. Parents suffering in like manner are found to be eagerly waiting like the ‘Good Father’ looking towards the phone for a call, a message, an e-mail or some news of their well being.
Lord Jesus emphasized the need of the father being love of his children and not only hard work of a slave/servant. Slave mentality will always cause alienation from God and also from those in need of compassion and love. Anyone living with that attitude can never reach out to the lost souls to bring them into the Light of the Gospel for their heart is in pleasing God rather than on saving a lost soul. Our Father in heaven also desires a close relationship of a ‘childlike dependence of faith’ and not pride of self efforts. The New Covenant of forgiveness, grace and mercy brought in by the Lord Jesus depends on our humble submission and surrender to the Father to ‘do His will and not ours’.
Isn’t care of the children a father’s responsibility? – It is an oft quoted claim by many children that the father is responsible for the children’s care and comfort and anything done for this is nothing exceptional. God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a place of abundance in the Garden of Eden with authority over everything that was created with only two commands – first, tend to what was entrusted to their care and secondly to not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He even specified the result of this disobedience “for you shall surely die”. The All Knowing God still came looking for them after their disobedience to address the issue while both blamed others without owning their own responsibility. The question “What is this you have done?” is actually a question to inform about their ignorance of the consequences of this act and should actually be “Do you realize what you have done?” It is the pain of the grieving Father God that finds expression in the curses, not only for Adam and Eve but also for Satan (Genesis 3).
The Father’s agony – The description of the beauty of Lucifer, his being exceptional in everything – beauty, intelligence and closeness to God as a ‘covering cherub’ and his fall from grace because of pride and arrogance causing a rebellious attitude of attempting to be equal to the Creator God is an expression of the Father’s pain (Isaiah 14:12-15 & Ezekiel 28:14). A God who had heard the cries of the Israelites in slavery in Egypt and sends Moses to lead them out of Egypt by a display of His Divine Power in destroying the might of Egypt, greatly enhanced by Joseph during his period of service of Pharaoh. The same Father finally decides to send an angel with them to lead them into the Promised Land but refuses to go with them “Lest I may destroy you in the way due to their rebellious nature” (Exodus 33:1-4). The loving Father willingly desires to be separated to avoid His wrath coming on His ‘chosen people’.
We see the physical pain of torture inflicted on the Son and the spiritual pain of non acceptance by the people for whom He descended from heaven but scarcely experience the pain suffered by the Father in heaven and His Holy Spirit residing in the Son. The Father and Son are one in each other and the Holy Spirit descended on the Son after His baptism and it was the Holy Trinity together that suffered on the cross and not the Son only. Lord Jesus wept at His friend Lazarus’ grave (John 11:35) while knowing that he will be raised back to life shortly and these tears were shed by the Lord for all the ‘children of God’ that were and are still dying due to their sinful living. The Son has provided salvation for mankind but still innumerable people reject this offer due to unbelief. How much pain are our sinful actions causing to the Son and the Father in heaven and to the indwelling Holy Spirit?
Moses led the Israelites out of a life of slavery in Egypt but they could never get Egypt out of themselves, always craving for that life. We seek forgiveness without changing and while the Savior’s mercy gets us out of sin through forgiveness but we never get sin out of our lives. The two brothers, like all of us, could never fathom the depth of the Father’s love and wanted everything without the Father. We claim to tithe, read Scripture, worship God every Sunday in the Church and demand His blessings that are ours for the asking through surrender and accepting His Will for our lives. God wants His Prodigal Children to come back into His embrace but we change into the Elder Son – toiling to receive His love.
Our Father desires us to never give up on the lost one’s but keep earnestly searching to get them into their place in the Father’s household!!