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Jesus used a number of common events in the lives of people to teach some vital lessons about the behavior of humans and that of God. On one such occasion, sinners and tax collectors drew near to Jesus to hear His words. Luke wrote a number of chapters of material not found in the other gospels. The lessons are directed toward those that many considered the lowest spiritually speaking. Tax collectors were generally thought of as being dishonest and immoral because of the work they were doing and were ostracized. They seem to be lumped in with any who were considered sinners. One of the accounts that Luke noted from the many accounts he had no doubt heard, had to do with a wealthy man who had two sons. According to tradition the older son was to receive a double portion so that when the younger son came to his father asking for the portion he would inherit, it would have been about one third of the wealth of the father. Luke notes this parable in Luke 15:11-32. Within the account Jesus noted that the older son was obedient to his father and they worked well together (verse 29). The younger son may have been chafing at his position as the younger and it seems the older brother did not have a great love for his younger sibling as he did not rejoice at his return (verse 32). Not much is noted about the younger son except that it seems he was not happy to be working within the family business and was eager to go out into the world.
Time and circumstance have a large part to play in how we live our lives. If we do not learn to foresee the possible lean years, we will not prepare for them. This younger son paid no attention to the future and lived only for today, it seemed. In a short period of time all of his inheritance was gone due to wasteful living and no doubt people taking advantage of his character faults. It seemed the father would have spent time teaching both of his sons since the father had often given commands and orders to them. The young man yearned to try things out for himself and make his own decisions. Shame seemed to be set aside. Prodigal means wasteful and careless of one's means.
The lessons that another young man by the name of Joseph learned about saving during the good years so that it was possible to survive the lean years was not something this young man thought about (Gen. 41:28-36). He also did not heed the words of wisdom from those like his father or mother (Prov. 31:15,21,27). Some people are very slow learners and it is not until they have reached the bottom of their resources and are at the end of their rope that they begin to think. A time of great need did come to all the land and this young man was at about the lowest level of existence one could think of and had nothing to eat. In Jesus' parable, his job was feeding swine and for an Israelite, that was getting very low as you would be working for a Gentile, it would seem. When he was so hungry that even the pods looked inviting, his brain kicked into gear and he remembered his father and his home (Luke 15:15-17).
Jesus noted that it was more than just being hungry, the young man realized that he had sinned against heaven and before God and done things that were shameful to the degree that he knew he was not worthy to be called a son of his father (verses 18,19). Now he was ready to make changes in his life and acknowledge his errors. This was a deep recognition of sin and he turned to God. He was ready to do whatever was needed to be a better person. Recognition of error is the first step towards correcting the flaws in our character.
It is a beautiful scene Luke painted as he noted that the father ran to meet his son when he saw him, and obviously had been worried about him. The son may have been gone for a few years and the father did not stop to ask questions, he just ran and embraced his son. The father had not gone after his son possibly because he did not know where to look for him, but the love of a father like this is very deep and passionate - even toward a son who has brought grief into his life. That is reflected in the reaction of David at the death of his wayward son Absalom. David said he would have died in his place (2 Sam. 18:33). Luke noted the inner problem of the older son who was upset that his father rejoiced at the return of his brother, but the older son also had a lesson of compassion and love to learn. That was a lesson Jesus often taught within his teachings as in his parable of the wages paid to those who came later than others to work (Matt. 20:10-13).
Nothing more is said by Luke about the rest of the relationship of the three, and the mother is not mentioned. But the lesson is one of rejoicing with one another and showing love and compassion. The greater spiritual lesson is that all of mankind is like a mirror image of the prodigal son. Mankind turned away from the paradise and inheritance God offered right from the beginning with Adam and Eve. That attitude continued with Israel and the old covenant which they scorned. God allowed mankind to go into Satan's world to learn the important lessons that He knows they must learn. He gives freedom of choice and allows harsh lessons to be taught by experience. Sadly enough humans have shown that they do need to reach the lowest depths before they are really ready to listen to God. Like this loving father, God offers life and hopes people will see the goodness in His offer (Deut. 30:29).
Peter likens us to sheep that have gone astray and have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (I Pet. 2:25). Mankind have wandered about in darkness and sin until despair and death are all about them. Only when we have almost destroyed ourselves will we be ready to listen, it seems, and knowing that, God had planned to send His Son quickly lest there be no flesh left alive (Matt. 24:22). There will be famines, droughts, wars and diseases in ever increasing strength. We humans have been given the earth to tend and keep, and up until the last couple of hundred years we were not able to damage this earth too greatly, but now we are able to destroy the world through pollution, overuse, plundering the riches of the earth in wild abandon and have developed the knowledge to change the earth.
Our character and nature will not allow us to make those changes that are for the betterment of the world. Our character and nature are what needs to be changed just as it was for the prodigal son. We are the "prodigal sons" as we have turned away from God and are also not worthy to be called his sons. King David wrote a meaningful Psalm about his thoughts of repentance on His return to God his Father after his great sin (Psalm 51). He acknowledged that his sin was against God his father. The prodigal son needed to ask his physical father for forgiveness as well as his heavenly Father - and it seems he knew that (Luke 15:18,21).
We too are dead in our sins and not worthy to be called the children of God until we repent and God forgives us (Eph. 2:19). Paul wrote of the love that God our Father has toward mankind. Though we were influenced by this world and disobedient, walked in the lust of our flesh and desires of our mind as the prodigal son did - God rejoiced at our return, was compassionate and merciful. Jesus explained that there was more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents that over 99 who need no repentance. Of course there are none who need no repentance (I John 1:8).