11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
13 A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in living without control. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
17 When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’
20 So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
22 But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
25 Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
28 The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
31 His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
This story is so powerful it needs very little comment, so I just want to point a few things out to you. First, the main character of this story is the father. Like the shepherd and the woman from yesterday, it is the father who has lost something. The first and most important thing for us to understand from this story is the consistent, even handed, passionate compassion the father shows to both sons. This is how our heavenly Father acts with each of us. This is also how we should act toward each other.
Second, pay close attention to what the text says and what it doesn’t say regarding what the second son did. The NLT had “wild living,” but it is literally, “lived without control.” That is all that is reported. It is the first son who makes an accusation regarding prostitutes (echoes of what the religious leaders were saying of Jesus), but that speaks more to the first son’s mental state (more on that in a moment) than anything. We don’t know how the second son spent his wealth, but the sin he comes home to confess is not about that, it is about the dishonor he showed his father in taking his inheritance early. His sin, his lostness, is the breaking of relationship with the father. That is the only sin the story names and it is quite enough. He winds up tending pigs for a Gentile, about as alienated as a Jewish boy could ever get. Jesus’ audience probably cringed at this.
Third, this is really a story of two lost sons. The second son was physically lost. The first son stayed physically, but his anger and bitterness toward both his brother and father show through everything he says and does in this story. He refuses to go in and asks a servant instead of finding out himself. He describes his own work as slaving, pouts that he never gets to go off with his friends, and reveals a lurid imagination regarding his brother’s time away. He is as alienated as his brother ever was. Except he may not be able to get to the point where he comes to his senses. The literal translation of v.29 is “never transgressed your commandments.” He doesn’t think he needs to repent, like the religious leaders Jesus has been dealing with. The father shows the same compassion for his older son, but will he receive it? Will he renew his relationship with his father and brother and be healed of his bitterness?
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.