Parables of Jesus for Modern Pilgrims
The Parable of the Lost Son
Jesus continues the conversation with the religious leaders while sitting at a meal with tax collectors and sinners.
It’s interesting how “tax collectors” are mention by trade. They were considered the vilest of sinners because they worked to collect money from their own people to give to the occupying government, the Romans. They were also encouraged by Rome to take more than was required for themselves, getting rich off of their fellow Jews.
In the face of opposition, Jesus tells a parable instead of arguing with His critics. He lets the listener find themselves in the story.
The father has two sons.
- The prodigal – represents the “sinners” in the room
- The older son – represents the religious leaders, the Pharisees
The younger son behaves horribly. He sins – big time. Basically, his actions tell the father, “I consider you dead. Give me my inheritance.” Bad form. He leaves home, squanders the money, and now returns. He hopes to be hired on as a servant in his father’s house.
Like the parables of the lost sheep and the coin, the father has been looking out for him. When he sees the son a long way off, he runs to him. He lavishes his love on the son. He celebrates, holding nothing back. What was lost is now found!
Here is where the story takes a more pointed turn – right towards the religious leaders. (Read: you and me in the Church.)
Usually, the emphasis on this parable is the younger son. We can easily see his waywardness and repentance. It’s the older son’s attitude that Jesus correlates with the Pharisees. It’s the new dimension to the story not included in the lost sheep and coin parables.
Imagine the scene. Jesus is inside at a meal with the “sinners” and the Pharisees are outside. They will not come in. That would defile them by Mosaic law. They must have been hovering around close enough for Jesus to keep talking with them. How awkward.
So like the Pharisees, the older brother refuses to come into the party for the younger son. The brother is so self-righteous, so indignant, so offended – just like the religious leaders.
But Jesus has compassion for them as well. The Pharisees are against Jesus, but Jesus doesn’t see them as His enemy – even when they order his crucifixion. As the father in the parable, Jesus wants them to know, “you have always been with me and everything I have is yours.” The Pharisees had missed the blessing of being a true son. They served out of duty and didn’t have a connection with the Father.
Lessons for the Modern Pilgrim
In our human nature, we want to pick winners and losers, good and evil. Jesus is illustrating that in the Kingdom of God, everyone has a seat at the table.
- Both sons lost sight of who they were. Both sons acted like orphans.
- The father came out to both sons, seeking to bring them into the house. “So the father went out and pleaded with him…” That is Jesus’ heart.
But like the found sheep and coin, Jesus insists on celebrating the homecoming. A pouting, uncomfortable older brother did not cancel the party. He merely lost out.
- Both sons revealed their heart by their actions.
- The younger son – blatant rebellion and rejection of the father’s provision.
- The older son – obedience to the rules but no heart-connection with the father.
- Both sons missed out on fellowship with the father from the beginning. Their orphan hearts kept them from all the father had planned for them.
Jesus ends the parable there. We don’t know if the older son came into the house or not. I suppose He was letting the listeners make that decision for themselves.
And we can choose for ourselves if we will come into the Father’s house.
It’s never too late. And guaranteed, there’s a party waiting!