The Prodigal Father

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells us a story about two sons who really know very little about their father’s love. One just wants to give vent to his lower nature and sin to whatever depths he can. The other elder son is also a stranger to his father’s love and thinks that he can please his father by keeping rules. I think the story is more about the father of the two than about the boys themselves. The father is a picture of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and all who call upon Him. He is the prodigal Father. Let’s read the passage and then I will explain:

prodigal_son20And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21And 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 servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate (Luke 15:20-24).

Before you start your email program to throw me an electronic stone, let me explain by saying that the word “prodigal” is not mentioned in the text and actually means:

Rashly or wastefully extravagant:” as in prodigal expenditures on unneeded weaponry; a prodigal life. Giving or given in abundance; lavish or profuse: prodigal praise.” 

Yes, the younger son was wastefully extravagant, but the father was even more so with his grace, mercy and acceptance of his son back from the distant country. Let’s look at the parable with that view in our mind, the father’s lavish kindness toward his lost son. We are told that the son had gone to a distant country (v.13). Certainly there was no need in Israel for pigs, so he was probably amongst Gentiles (non Jews) in an adjacent country. Wherever he was, we are to see that he was several miles from home. The younger son comes to himself and decides to return home to his father. He makes up his speech and turns in the direction of home:   The father in this story is a picture of the Father who loves each of us. He also was a long way from home, waiting, looking for his son. We are told that as soon as the son turned for home, there was the Father, a long way from home (v.20). There was no anger within the father; the immediate emotion within the father even before he got up to his son, was compassion. Dictionary.com says that compassion is: Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it. As soon as the father saw his son he ran to him. The father has been in pain for his son while he has been away from home. In thinking through this parable, why did Jesus have the father run to the son, what aspect of God’s character does this display?

Upon the son’s turning toward home, this father is so ready to forgive that he does not even give the young man a chance to speak his words. This is a father in great love with his son. He runs to him. No self-respecting aged father runs in the Middle East. But here we see the father is unrestrained in kissing his son. The English King James Version says, “he fell on his neck, and kissed him.” There is no thought about the stench of the pigs that still hangs on the boy. He is just so pleased to see him! The Greek tense says that he threw his arms around him and kissed him again and again and again. The father expressed his kindness before the son expressed his repentance. This speaks of God’s kindness and His readiness to be reconciled to those that have been apart from His love. Finally, the young man, in the midst of sobs, I’m sure, manages to get out part of his speech that he had prepared. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father cuts him off, and speaks to his servants to bring some things.

What things are brought for the son and what do they mean to us?

They were told to bring the “best robe.” There is a double emphasis here in the Greek text, the robe, that principal robe. We are not talking about a coat here; this robe speaks of the son being restored to a place of honor. It speaks to us of a robe of righteousness that covers over our pigsty of sin. The ring speaks of authority and power of attorney. In that day, rings were used to sign official documents. Often the ring had an impression on it that, when pushed into hot wax, was the official seal of the family. Pharaoh gave Joseph such a ring when he was elevated to second in command of Egypt, after interpreting Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41:42). We too are given authority by our God to do the works of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). The son was given shoes. No slave ever wore shoes, and the father would not let his son go barefoot. He was a son, not a slave. Our feet are shod with the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15). We have been made sons of God. The servants were told to kill the calf that had been fattened ready for this day. This father had been slowly fattening the calf that he may celebrate when his son would come home. These were all gifts of grace lavished on the slave returning home to be restored to sonship. A Prodigal Father is quite an understatement! May you see God the way He really is!

Keith Thomas