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A Much Loved Parable

A Much Loved Parable – Luke 15:11-32


Today’s Gospel reading, commonly known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, is arguably the most cherished of all the parables. Yet what is not always recognized is that the parable emphasises that it was not just the younger son who was lost but the older one too. As well as this, the parable gives just as much, if not more, attention to the father in the story as to the sons. What maybe a more helpful title therefore is ‘The Parable of the father’s love for his two lost sons.’

Jesus told this parable in response to the Scribes and Pharisees grumblings that he kept company with tax collectors and sinners who were regarded as the riff raff of Jewish society (cf. Luke 15:1-3). The younger son in the parable represents the tax collectors and sinners, the older son, the Scribes and the Pharisees, and the father represents God.

Upon realizing the error of his ways, the younger son returns to his Father in an attempt to be received back, not as a son, which he had lost the privilege to, but as a servant. Yet on his return he is overwhelmed by the unexpected visible demonstration of his father’s extravagant love. He is humbled by the offer of grace, and in confessing his unworthiness, accepts restoration to sonship in genuine humility.

The elder son then insults his father publically by refusing to join the celebration and in doing so demonstrates himself to be as ‘lost’ as his younger brother was. The Father extends the same extravagant love to him but he refuses it. Instead he launches a bitter tirade of accusations against his father, who lovingly responds by way of correction and a further appeal for reconciliation.

The main point of the parable is that it illustrates the extravagance of God’s forgiving, love. Yet this love is only experienced upon confession of sin and by humbly accepting it.  So the question for each of us today is, which son do I most identify with? Do I realize my own shortcomings and my need for God’s restoring love made manifest through Christ’s atoning death on the cross or am I relying on my own sense of self-righteousness?


Luke 15:11-32

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

11 Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons.12The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them.13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.17But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ”20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.21Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”22But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.

25 ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.27He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.”28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.29But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!”31Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’