By Kevin Copeland
In Luke 15 we find Jesus telling a series of parables to a group of Pharisees and scribes who were grumbling about Jesus sharing his table with sinners, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” One of these parables was “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” An interesting story about a father and his two sons.
The youngest son makes an unusual request from his father to receive his inheritance early. Inconceivably, the father agrees, not only giving his son the freedom to make his own decisions and follow his own path, but financing the trip. The younger son takes advantage of his inheritance to leave the fathers presence and journey into a far country. Through a series of bad choices, the son ends up as an indentured servant to a foreigner, feeding pigs and eating with the pigs. Not a good position for anyone to be in, much less a Jew who detests the idea of being a slave to a foreigner (after the whole Egypt thing) and finds pigs to be an abomination. Can anyone relate? I can.
Finally, he comes to his senses and decides he would be better off being an indentured servant to his father. So, he begins to rehearse a speech to give to his father upon his return (Luke 15:18 & 9). In this speech he confesses his sins to the father and repents. Then he recognizes his unworthiness to be considered a son and requests to be his father’s servant instead. Incredibly, as he makes his journey back to his father, the father sees him a long way off, runs out to meet him, embraces him and kisses him. If that’s not enough, as the son is giving his rehearsed request for servanthood, he confesses his sin and humbly repents, but before he can even request to be a servant, his father interrupts him. The father calls his servants to bring the best robe, a ring and shoes, all symbolic of sonship. The father doesn’t receive his son back as an indentured servant in need of working off a debt, but rather restores him back to complete sonship. Then he calls for the fattened calf to be killed, symbolic of a sacrifice being made to cover the son’s sin, and a celebration to be made on behalf of his resurrected son. The son, who through poor decisions became a slave, eating with the pigs, is now restored back to a son eating the fattened calf at the father’s table.
Stop right there and that’s a beautiful story as it is, but what about the father’s other son? As it turns out, the older son had been working out in the field upon his younger brothers return. While making his way back toward the house he hears the noise of the celebration coming from the banquet table and inquires from one of the servants what is going on. Upon learning that it’s a celebration for his younger brother who has returned, he becomes angry and refuses to go in. So, the merciful father comes out and entreats his son to join the party. The eldest son’s response is very revealing (Luke 15:29 & 30). First, he presents his own good works, how he worked hard to serve his father and obey all of his commands. Then he claims not to have received anything from his father for all of his efforts to be the good son. Finally, he accuses his brother of being the bad son, who did nothing to deserve the sacrificial offering of a fattened calf and a celebration, but that’s what he received anyway just by simply returning to the father. That’s one of the differences between works and grace right there. While grace fills you with joy, peace and celebration for yourself and others, works makes you angry and bitter when others end up at the fathers table and you don’t believe they worked as hard as you did to be there.
Once again, the father responds with great wisdom, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found.” How true this statement is. You see, the younger son had already received his portion of the inheritance. Everything the father had left was part of the eldest son’s inheritance. In fact, the robe, ring, sandals and fattened calf were all a part of the eldest son’s inheritance. What the father is addressing here is the condition of his son’s heart toward his younger brother, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad.” Even if it costs us something, which, more often than not, tends to be our pride in our own works.
Jesus’ point to the Pharisees and scribes seems to be this: While you perceive that I am eating with abominable pigs, I am actually celebrating at the fathers table with sons and daughters who have been restored, and you are invited to join the table in celebration with us. Interestingly enough, Jesus leaves this parable open ended, as if he’s presenting the Pharisees and scribes with a question. Are you going to join the party or not? Here’s the thing, “prodigal” does not mean wayward or sinner like some have been led to believe. “Prodigal” actually means recklessly wasteful or extravagant; lavish in giving or yielding. The fact is, God is a prodigal father and we are all invited to the father’s prodigal table. The only thing that keeps us away from celebrating and enjoying the fattened calf at the father’s table is us.
What’s keeping you from the father’s table?
Are you squandering your inheritance in a far off place?
Are you serving foreigners and eating food meant for pigs?
Are you spending all of your time working out in the field trying to earn the father’s acceptance?
Are you so busy judging others at the father’s table that you refuse to join them in celebration?
Kevin on Facebook: Allergy warning: This Facebook account is processed in a factory that also processes tree nuts/peanuts. Any comments may contain nuts.
Personal thought: I met Kevin on Twitter. He’s an amazing dude who works with inmates in the Houston area. He’s serious about loving the prisoners and setting the captives free by starting with their souls. Kevin has shared some stories about the way the Spirit is changing the hearts of inmates that I hope one day you too will enjoy. It’s evident that through him God really does want to the prisoners free from their bondage. He’s committed to living out the gospel.
You can follow him on Twitter.
Your comments are welcome. Be respectful.