Most believers have probably heard the parable of the Prodigal Son several times, but sometimes the most repeated things in life are some of the most important. With so much to dissect from this passage in Luke 15, the themes from this chapter are always relevant and serve as a poignant reminder of the joy of God's gift of salvation. Click here to refresh yourself on the parable, starting on verse 11.
The parable of the Prodigal Son is the third in a trilogy of parables in this chapter centering around the "lost." The first of these details one sheep out of a flock of 100 and the joy of the shepherd when he finds the lost sheep and returns it to the rest of the flock.
The second parable is much shorter, drawing parallels to the parable before, but this time with a woman and a lost silver coin. Just as the shepherd was overjoyed at the return of his lost sheep, so is the woman when she finds her lost coin. Both the shepherd and the woman are used to represent the joy of God when a lost soul repents and becomes a follower of Christ. This is a theme that continues for the rest of the chapter during the final and longest parable of the three: the lost son.
The obvious message of these allegories is clear: God the Father rejoices in heaven each time a sinner repents and accepts the offer of salvation. The father in the story represents God while the prodigal son represents sinners who have turned away from Him. The youngest son collects his inheritance from his father early and then leaves to spend all of his money on frivolous, empty pursuits.
This parable can also be interpreted as an example of how we should act when put in the position of the father. When lost people come back to us, we should meet them with forgiveness and compassion. With open arms, the father not only accepts his son back, but he also welcomes him home with a celebration. He prepares a fattened calf for his son and throws a feast, gives him his best robe and puts a ring on his finger. The generosity and grace he extends to his son reflect God's love for all his children. For those who strive to be more Christlike, showing this kind of compassion to others mirrors the forgiveness and compassion that God shows to us.
According to Thomas Schreiner, it isn't just the youngest son that's lost in this parable. While the youngest son is the primary "lost child" of the story, this parable takes the theme further than the other two. All three parables follow the same structure: a person loses something precious to them, they search for it and eventually find it again and celebrate its return.
The final parable ends differently, though. When the father celebrates the younger son's homecoming, the older son gets angry. His response juxtaposes that of his brother, who felt unworthy upon his return home. While the younger son's arrival was celebrated despite his wrongdoings, the younger son had endured poverty, famine and shame while the older son lived in the comfort and privilege of his father's estate.
The older son is meant to represent the Pharisees who scoff at Jesus for associating himself with sinners. They felt entitled to Jesus' company rather than tax collectors, yet Jesus ate with sinners anyway. According to Schreiner, the older son felt entitled to the love and affection of the father, similarly to how the self-righteous Pharisees seek Jesus' attention. Jesus, however, rebukes their arrogance and instead invites them to celebrate as well since lost souls were being found.
To further discuss the context of this passage, the subsequent passage has verses that tie into what Jesus is trying to say to the Pharisees. With the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16, Jesus calls out their greed, saying they cannot serve God and money. In verse 15, Jesus tells them that God knows their hearts and their avarice is detestable to Him. Considering this passage helps contextualize what Jesus was trying to tell the Pharisees with all the parables in these chapters, as they were the audience for some of these messages.
Another lesson to glean from this story along with the theme of forgiveness is to rejoice, as seen in all three parables in Luke 15. Although his youngest son asked for his inheritance early and foolishly squandered it in dishonorable ways, the father is jubilant when his son returns to him. He doesn't get angry with his son even when he starts listing his dirty deeds. Instead, he embraces him, gives him gifts and celebrates his return.
Maybe someone in your life is lost like the prodigal son was. Or perhaps you are the one who has drifted away and have yet to return home to forgiveness. Reach out with love and respond with compassion. Forgive those who wronged you. If relationships manage to heal, then celebrate! And celebrate just as they do in heaven when someone lost finds their way to Jesus, for they "were lost but now are found" (Luke 15:32).
If you're looking for a way home, Bethesda Gardens assisted living community in Arlington, TX, can help — both spiritually and physically. We offer a vibrant, comfortable community for seniors of all types of faiths, and for those seeking Jesus, we have Bible studies, worships and other opportunities to move closer to God.