Luke 15:11 – 19
11Then 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 traveled 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.”’
This is the third in the series of stories Jesus tells about the lost and found. Remember, the entire series is in response to the Pharisees’ objections to Jesus associating with sinners and tax collectors. In the first two stories the item lost, the lamb and the coin, could not be held to be responsible for their own situation of being lost. Perhaps the lamb wandered away from the flock, but it was not intentional; it was simply looking for a patch of greener grass; and the coin certainly could not have jumped off the table. And in those two stories, the shepherd and the woman searched for the lost.
There is a difference in the third story – the young man is rebellious from the beginning of the story. The first part is about the lost one. He is scornful of his father, demanding his inheritance immediately, as if to say, “I wish you were dead!” Amazingly, the father gives him what he demands. And the young man goes off – never once thinking of the heartbreak of his father. The young man goes to a distant country, where he squanders his money in dissolute living. Did you ever meet that young man? I think we all have! We know the young man, or woman, who goes off, certain they can make it in the movies, or on the stage, or even in the art world or the culinary world, and ends up doing things they never dreamed of just to make a living. Or, the kid who goes off to college and spends the first year partying, and ends up flunking out. And then, of course, there are those who live in the mangroves on our islands, who were once someone’s son or daughter – who left home, and fell into addictions, and feel they can never return. Yes, we have all met the prodigal – and sometimes, we are all the prodigal ourselves. Sometimes we rebel against God, our Father.
When the young man has spent all his money, a famine came to the land, and he was in need. And the only work he could find was feeding the pigs. This was the lowest a Jewish boy could fall – he really hit bottom – pigs were unclean animals to the Jews, and Jesus’ audience for this story were Jews, and to have to care for pigs was the very worst thing they could imagine! And even in the pig-pen, the boy was still hungry!
But then he came to himself – from the bottom, he began to imagine something else – he found hope. He would go to his father, beg his forgiveness, and ask him to allow him to just work for him on the farm. He would say to his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” And so, he left the pig-pen and he journeyed many miles to return to his father. The first part of the story is about the lost – and his decision to return to the Father.