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Prodigal Son, Part I

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I. Introduction

Inheritance by definition implies a distribution of property upon the death of a relative. In our society it is usually upon the death on one’s parents. However, it could be upon the death of one’s grandparents, or a childless relative such as an aunt, uncle or even a sibling.
Some folk may even remember various organizations in their wills. Maybe some people while alive, had experienced a tough time when a total stranger came to their rescue. The stranger helped them out of the kindness of their heart with no thought of receiving anything in return. Not expecting even so much as a thank you, let alone any monetary gift, years later they are informed that this total stranger included them, a non-family member, in their will.
Inheritance in the Ancient, biblical world
In the ancient, biblical world, all property belonged to the head of household, the man. When a man and a woman married, any property the woman owned, became the property of her husband. If they were childless and the husband passed, his property reverted to oldest surviving brother who also had the responsibility of marrying his surviving spouse.
If they had children, the property was divided between them, but not equally. The oldest son received a double portion. For example, if the marriage produced three sons, the property would be divided into four parts. The eldest son would receive 2/4 or 1/2 of the property with the remaining two sons each receiving 1/4 of the estate.

II. Story Context

Our text today occurs in the Bible immediately following two other parables. The first is a “Parable of the Lost Sheep.” Biblical scholars entitled the second as “The Parable of the Lost Coin.” The third parable is “The Parable of the Lost Son,” which many also refer to as “The Prodigal Son” story.
Scripture Reading in NASB Luke 15:1-24
Must convert to cash, must sell non-liquid assets
11 And He said, “A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me he share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. 13 And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. 14 Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. 17 But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18 ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.” ’ 20 “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.
Community would realize father divesting
Shamed in front of peers
Community would realize son was ungrateful
Shamed in front of peers

III. Younger Son

Wanted inheritance while Father alive
The younger son wanted his inheritance now, immediately. He did not want to wait until his father died. That might be years down the road. He wanted to enjoy the benefits now while he was a young man. So he went to his father. He demanded his inheritance share of the property that would be due him, now.
His father agreed to his son’s demand. Since there were two sons the property would be divided into thirds. Also, he was the younger son. That meant his share of the inheritance would be 1/3 of the father’s assets. One third of everything his father owned at the moment, not what he might own just prior to death.
Conversion of property in the ancient world
Conversion of property
Wealth in biblical times was determined by land owned, animals currently being raised, crops ready for harvest or already stored on the property, and any coinage that might be in his father’s purse since the banking industry did not exist at that time. In order to give the younger son his portion of the estate, the father had to sell all the non-liquid assets. The property - land, animals, crops - had to be converted to cash.
Conversion of property
There was no way the father could liquidate his property on the Q-T. Everyone in the region would know the father was divesting. Unlike today when you could just sign a contract with a realtor or put an add in either the paper, he had either personally contact people in the community or send a trusted emissary to represent him. The entire community would realize the father was divesting of a portion of his estate.
Everyone in the community knew how much land the father owned. They would know how large a herd of animals he held. They would be aware of the type and amount of crops he raised. They also knew how much he was selling. He had to go, with hat in hand, to his neighbors to find a buyer.
They could do the math. Even if they were never told the reason for the sale, they could figure out what 1/3 would be. Without ever being told, they would make the connection that he was converting to cash the assets equivalent to the younger son’s portion of his inheritance.
By selling one third of his estate to give the proceeds to his youngest son would fodder for community gossip. The entire community would talk about the son’s various indiscretions. The entire community would believe the father failed in the upbringing of his youngest son. The father would be blamed for his son’s indiscretions. In essence, the father was shamed in front of his peers.
Squandered his inheritance
Community would realize son was ungrateful
Shamed in front of peers
Squandered his inheritance
Squandered his inheritance
Scripture tells us that not long after the father gave his youngest son the monetary proceeds which was the worth of this son’s inheritance, that the young man took everything he owned and left home. He did not go looking for a job. He did not go looking for investment opportunities.
He did not stay in close proximity to the community in which he was raised. Instead he went to a distant land, a land that was not only far way, but one in which his reputation would not have preceded him. He foolishly went to have a good time. That was his sole purpose. He lived wastefully. Not keeping track of his money and with no means of replenishing what he spent, he caroused and partied. Oblivious to the fact that his money would sooner or later run out, he continued having a good time. He spent everything he had on riotous living.
Destitution brings about reality
It was not a good time to be broke. It was not a good time to be literally penniless. There was a famine in the country. Without money, he soon became hungry. He began looking for a job. A farmer took pity on him. He gave the boy a job.
The farmer offered him a job tending to the pigs in the field, a job no Hebrew person would have taken. Pigs were considered unclean. Even to this day, Orthodox Jewish adherents do not eat or touch pork. It was the boy’s job to feed the pigs. He fed them carob pods which had sweet pulp and a flavor similar to chocolate, but until he would be paid, he had nothing to eat, not even a piece of the sweet pulp of the carob pod.
The unclean pigs had food to eat and this young man had nothing. He started to come to his senses. He began to remember what it was like when he lived at home. He remembered how his father treated their hired hands. They had an abundance of food. They had all they could eat and then some.
He fed them carob pods which had sweet pulp and a flavor similar to chocolate, but until he would be paid, he had nothing to eat, not even a piece of the sweet pulp of the carob pod.
carob pods which had sweet pulp and a flavor similar to chocolate. Until he would be paid, he had nothing to eat.
A farmer took pity on him. He gave the boy a job. The farmer sent him out to the fields to tend to his pigs. It was the boy’s job to feed the pigs carob pods which had sweet pulp and a flavor similar to chocolate. Until he would be paid, he had nothing to eat.
Son’s resolution
Dressed in rags and starving, he resolved to go home to his father. He swallowed his pride. He determined to humble himself and ask for his father’s forgiveness. He admitted his sin and unworthiness. He asked for a job, not as a son, but as a hired hand.
Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
Oblivious to the fact that his money would sooner or later run out, he continued having a good time. He spent everything he had on riotous living.
caroused
partied
Spent all his inheritance
penniless, broke
Working at pig farm
Working at pig farm
Unclean
Starving
Hungry - pigs were eating better
Came to senses
Realized his failure
Realized his father’s hired hands were better off
Swallowed pride
wallowed pride
Returned to father
Admitted his sin and unworthiness
Asked to be hired hand

IV. Father

Reunion of father and prodigal son
While Scripture does not give us all the details leading up to the reunion of father and son, we can fill in a few of the blanks. First, it seems obvious the father was missing his son. He was watching for him, hoping, praying his son would return. Second, we can surmise that either the house was erected on a hill or the land was very flat. Either scenario would provide an expansive view of the land. Either would enable the father to see a long distance.
Third, I don’t think it was happenstance that the father picked this particular day to watch for his son. I believe the father loved his son very much. I believe he missed his son and had been watching and hoping his son would come home. I think he pined for his son. He looked down the path hoping to see his son daily.
What Scripture does make perfectly clear is that, at least on this particular day, dad was watching for junior. And when he saw junior, still a sizeable distance away, dad did not wait patiently at the house for his son to reach him. His prayers had been answered. He immediately ran to his son, closing the distance faster. And when he reached his son, he embraced him. He gave his son a long, bear hug. He hugged his lost, wayward son with delight.
The son confessed his sin. He recognized his greedy behavior. He felt unworthy to be called “son” by this forgiving, generous, loving man.
His father's heart was filled with joy. He started shouting orders. Bring out the best robes. Put the ring on his finger. Get some sandals on his feet.
And then he says, “this son of mine was dead and is alive again!” Bring the calf, the calf we have been fattening for a special celebration. Kill it. Roast it. Invite our neighbors and friends. “My son was lost and now is found!” “It’s party time. It’s time for music and dancing. It’s time for rejoicing. Let the festivities begin!”

V. Perceived purpose of parable

Bring best robes
Ring
Celebrated
Entire community
Music
Dancing
V. Perceived purpose of parable
The story of the prodigal son is grouped in the Bible with two other parables. The first is a “Parable of the Lost Sheep.” Biblical scholars entitled the second as “The Parable of the Lost Coin.” The third parable is “The Parable of the Lost Son,” which many also refer to as “The Prodigal Son” story.
Story only about the younger son
Story of forgiveness
Original hearers
Astounded
Shocked
Stunned
Aghast
Offended
Past and present
Believe God will accept us no matter what we do
Jesus says,

V. Perceived purpose of parable

Abounding grace

IV. Older son

The original audience
Story does not end with return
Story has three characters, not just two
Modern thoughts
Story only about the younger son
Story of forgiveness
Original hearers
Astounded
Shocked
Stunned
Aghast
Offended
The original audience would have been astounded. Some would have been shocked upon hearing jesus tell this story. They would have been stunned, offended. He did not have to make any reparations. How could any parent not only overlook his bad behavior, but actually seem to sanction it? Instead of facing community sanctions, instead of seeing him pay a penance, they came and had a good time at a party thrown in his honor.
How in the world can you reward the disrespectful younger son for his riotous living? The older brother has been living according the the law of Moses and he has never been rewarded. You never publically praised him for his obedience.
Stunned
Aghast
Offended
Modern hearers interpretation
Most Americans reading this portion of the parable would certainly recognize the family dynamics. The first part of this parable portrays the younger son as a selfish, greedy, indulgent young man who is only concerned about himself. He is a playboy. He would rather cater to his personal want and desires than his family responsibilities. He is unable to see anything beyond his own desires. He is oblivious to the feelings of anyone else. As far as he is concerned, he did not ask to be born, so his father owes him. He is a spoiled brat.
The older son has grown into a hardworking, reliable, obedient son. He can be trusted to run the day to day operations of the estate. He is a good business man. putting Knowing he will eventually inherit the majority of the property, he dutifully strives to increase its profitability.
The father loves his children. He is very proud of his oldest son. He knows the land is in good hands. He knows his son will continue to prosper in business.
He is not blind to his youngest son’s indiscretions. He knows this son is selfish, immature, and self-absorbed. He knows he indulges the young man, hoping he will grow up, see the errors of his ways and change.
Yes, most of us can identify the good attributes, as well as, the areas of needed growth. In fact, most of us can identify with the feelings and weakness of them as well.
Many of us recognize the father’s reactions - sorrows and joy - as a portrayal of God the Father. We can easily see God’s patience with his children through the actions of this man. The joy and exuberance shown by this father upon seeing the return of his son must be similar to how God feels when a person seeks his presence, repenting. The forgiveness and celebration without recrimination is certainly a picture of abounding grace.
Story does not end with return
W
Consensus opinion of old and modern audiences
Story has three characters, not just two
Modern thoughts
Focus on the younger son
Story of forgiveness
Original hearers
Shocked
Stunned
Aghast
Offended
Past and present
First century Hebrews and modern believers hold the opinion that God will accept us no matter what. At best all one has to do is present a sin offering or confess our sin and we will be forgiven.
Dutiful
Hard worker
Dutiful
Obedient
Story of forgiveness
Original hearers in context,
Astounded, shocked, stunned, aghast
Offended
God will accept us no matter what we do
Everything you ever heard, every thing you ever thought about how to approach God is wrong
New Conflict arises as father throws a feast
came from the field - Hears music and dancing
Inquires of servant
Furious
Angry
Refuses to enter
Refuses to partake of festivities
by not going in he is saying I will not join the family
Father comes out of house
Pleads, implores with elder son
Son becomes disrespectful to father
Vents
says “look”
I served
I obeyed
Slighted
Hurt
never gave me a goat, let alone a calf
never threw a celebration for me
Separates himself from family
This son of yours
Not my brother
Not my brother
Does not identify himself with family
Jealous
particularly upset about cost, Concerned with cost
never gave me a goat, let alone a calf
meat expensive
no refrigeration
rare occasions
no refrigeration
special celebrations
religious feasts
birth of firstborn son
shared with community, costly feast
never threw a celebration for me
Great day for father
elder brother only sees the celebration
cares about the fathers things
all he sees is his share diminishing with the expense of this celebration for his ingrate brother
father is using HIS inheritance in a way he does not approve
he doesn’t care about the father’s heart - the joy of his lost son being found, the joy of his younger son returning, so happy he throws a feast to which the entire village is invited

VII. Jesus’ Purpose in Parable

Each parable is told for a specific purpose
one theme runs throughout
Everything you ever heard, everything you ever thought about how to approach God is wrong
Grace abounds
Vignette about 2 sons, not just the one who squandered his inheiritance
both are alienated from father
both want father’s things, but not the father
both want father’s status
Younger brother
breaking all the rules
The younger brother portrays a traditional view of sin
Both have been using the father - for his material things - money
both trying to get control of the father’s things - one by rebellion - the prodigal
the thing keeping older brother from the father is not his sin, it’s his righteousness, his self-righteousness
I’ve never disobeyed
I have stayed and worked hard
they both are lost
both alienated from the father
both alienated from God
You can escape god from morality & religion as much as from immorality
a lot of Xtians with an elder brother type of heart
I try hard, I go to church, I obey, -
God you owe me to give me the things I want
you owe it to me to give me what I ask for - things instead of obeying just to get God - the man who has kept all the moral words is lost
both are lost
under the surface they are both the same
what is your reason?
Are you like the younger brother? The older brother?
What is the reason we do anything good?
We need to be like Jesus - wanting God because he is God, not just for what he can give us.
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