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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, particularly during this season of Lent, 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?