Focus Text: Luke 15.14-19

The parable of the prodigal son is somewhat atypical of all other parables of Jesus. First off, it is much longer than most parables. Some parables are only one or two verses; the parable of the prodigal is twenty-two verses in length. Most parables have only one central theme; this parable has three major lessons with many other ancillary minor lessons or points of comparison. However, whether it is atypical or not, the context still reigns king in interpreting it. Please recall as you read the parable as well as when you read these lessons, that the setting is one in which certain people railed on Jesus, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15.2).

“But when he [the prodigal son] had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’” (Luke 15.14-19).

In stating that the younger son “came to himself,” Jesus implies that he had been away from himself, or as we might put it, beside himself. His actions were not consistent with what he knew to be best; some type of temporary beclouding of the senses had led to his downfall. When he came to himself, he came to his senses. He reasoned correctly that his father yet had plenty, while he was at the point of starvation. Basically, there was only one thing that would keep the son away from his father; that one thing was pride. However, we see how humble the boy was in that he readily admitted his sin against the father, and against God, and asked only to be treated as one of the servants. His broken spirit was and is a beautiful thing to behold. All too often pride keeps us from doing what we know is best; not so with the prodigal son.

Notice how the boy thought that his father might receive him. He knew that he was not worthy to be called his father’s son, but that did not stop him from making an effort to receive something from his father’s hand. Just a servant’s commission was all he would ask! Surely he must have thought that his father would adjudge him harshly, maybe even banishing him from the ties ordinarily enjoyed by family members. Further, he was ready to accept that fate.

The father in this parable represents Almighty God, and it becomes obvious that the boy did not have a proper conception of how God treats sinners. Once taken back into the fold, he must have thought that God would give those who had erred some sort of second-class status, unworthy of fellowshipping with those who needed no repentance. This whole thought process is consistent with the thinking of the scribes and Pharisees in criticizing Jesus for receiving sinners! However, that thinking is flawed as we shall see when we continue our study of the prodigal son.

Questions:

1. What is meant when Jesus said the boy “came to himself”?

2. What evidence is there of the son’s great humility?

3. Did the boy know intimately the father’s heart? Why or why not?

4. Thought question: Who is it that doesn’t need repentance? Just who are the faithful? Are they sinners in any sense of the word? Who should be second class citizens in God’s kingdom?