While this parable is commonly known as “The Prodigal Son” (I even call it this throughout the series), I’d like us to start to think of it a bit differently. You see, that name isn’t quite right. It’s misleading to single out only one of the sons as the sole focus of the story. Even Jesus doesn’t call it the parable of the prodigal son, but begins the story by saying, “There was a man who had two sons.” (Luke 15:11, emphasis mine)
In the younger brother character, Jesus depicts a variation of sin that anyone would recognize. He was openly disrespectful to his father and squandered his inheritance. No one would venture to say, “He’s a totally upstanding human being. Really solid guy. Totally dependable. He’s welcome to date my daughter.” No. People would agree in unison that the younger brother was living sinfully. The listeners would have considered this person to be cut off from God. We revisit the younger son only to highlight a stark contrast to the older brother character.
The latter is seemingly loyal to his father. He has the self-discipline that is so desperately lacking in his younger brother.
So, here we have two sons: one “bad” by conventional standards, and one “good.” Nonetheless, both are alienated from their father. How so? That’s exactly what we are going to unpack this week.
Each brother represents a different way to be alienated from God and a different way to seek acceptance into the Kingdom. The narrative is as much about the elder brother as the younger, and as much about the father as the sons….which is why I’ve decided to break these teachings up by character each week. Moreover, what Jesus says about the older brother is one of the most important messages given to us in the Bible.
Remember last week how we said that Jesus was talking to the sinners and the Pharisees when he told this story?
As it turns out, this parable was actually meant for the Pharisees. Although both groups can certainly benefit from the message, it is directed to the Pharisees. The sinners didn’t ask why Jesus was eating with them. The Pharisees asked, and Jesus responded with the stories documented in Luke 15. The three parables are in response to their attitude, which the Pharisees would steadfastly maintain was right with God. We will see how this was not the case and how Jesus powerfully pleaded with them to change their hearts so they could enter the Kingdom.
Let’s revisit a parallel we learned last week. The sinners are synonymous with the younger brother. But, as we just mentioned, Jesus was talking to the sinners AND the Pharisees.
If the sinners were the younger brother, what does that make the older brother?
That’s right. The older brother is synonymous with the Pharisees! That means how he sinned and how he reacted, which we will observe more closely this week, albeit differently than his younger brother, were similar to how the Pharisees sinned and reacted.
Make no mistake: just like the sinners realizing that the younger brother was really them imposed into the tale, the Pharisees would have also noticed. The Pharisees would have also pieced together that they were the older brothers, and they would not have appreciated what Jesus had to say about them either. A sinner being welcomed without restitution?! Nonsense! A clearly obedient and righteous man not getting what he earned?! Preposterous!
Jesus is saying that both the irreligious and the religious (sinners and Pharisees) are spiritually lost, but Jesus was also ushering in a new way to live. One that offered eternal life to the repentant…One that offered a reason to press pause for anyone who thought they were above sin.
This parable of the two lost sons is a total gamechanger in every way. I’m here for it! How about you?
Same time, same place tomorrow? See you then…and bring a warm beverage of choice 😊
Did you know I created a worship playlist just for this series?!
Celebrate a good, good Father who is always calling and welcoming his children home!