"Prodigals" Part 1: The Younger Son February 17, 2019
Greg Taylor invites you to come with friends in tow Sunday, February 17, 2019 when he plays a music video about the greatest parable Jesus ever told. Share this one minute video with friends on social media. See you Sunday!
A man had two sons . . . first, the story of the younger son
The most famous story of Jesus is not only about one son named the “Prodigal.” In this mini-series of sermons beginning February 17, 2019, we’re remembering that the story begins, “A man had two sons.” Who was the other son? We’ll find out in the weeks to come, but if you want to read ahead, the two parts of the story occur like this: the younger son (Luke 15:11-24) and the elder son (Luke 15:25-32). So this mini-series is called “Prodigals,” and we will be invited to see ourselves in the characters of this powerful parable.
First we’ll focus on the story of the younger son, the one who left.
Give me my inheritance
The younger son wanted his inheritance early, even before his father died. Can you imagine what it might feel like for a son to ask a father for the inheritance early? I asked Ugandans what they would think about a young man who did this? Oh, that son would be doing a very bad thing, the equivalent of cursing the father to death. I’ve never heard of a culture where this kind of request would be welcomed.
Yet, the father does something unexpected. While some cultures would expect the father to react very negatively, and I expect some neighbors would help a father beat a son who was so disrespectful to ask for the inheritance early, wishing the father dead, caring about the money more than the well-being of the father. What does the father do?
The father grants the request and sends the son on with his blessing.
A far away country (v. 13)
A far away country is not just a minor element of the story. In the spare story form of the parable, every detail is important. The son not only does the equivalent of cursing the father to death by asking for the inheritance, but he also goes to a far away country, leaving everything about the father’s life and culture, preferring another culture, another religion, another family over the father’s. It was not common in Jewish cultures, nor in many Middle Eastern cultures or African cultures for the son to naturally move far away. The family land passes to the sons, and typically a son would stay close to care for the family generations before him. To go to a far away country is another slap in the face to the father and the family.
Squandered everything in foolish living (v. 13-14)
The younger son made foolish, selfish decisions and squandered half of his father’s wealth in dissolute living. Bad timing, because there was also a famine that drained the land of life. The younger son found himself destitute, penniless, jobless. This son who was a prince in his father’s house, had everything he needed was now competing for the food of beggars.
He hired himself out feeding pigs (v. 15-16)
The son finding a job tending pigs is no insignificant detail. Jews had been commanded for centuries not to eat “unclean” meat such as pork. Pigs were not on Jewish farms, and they would be as disgusting to most Jews as rats to Americans. He was in a terrible place, far from home, no family, no money, a job no one wanted. He was so hungry he longed to eat the slop the pigs were eating.
He came to himself (v. 17)
Finally, the younger son “came to himself" and thought, “Here I am longing for the slop I’m feeding these pigs. My father’s servants eat better than this. What if I went to my father and said, “I’ve sinned against heaven and before you. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me like one of your hired hands.”
What will the younger son do? Will he go home?
We’re going to leave the younger son in the pig pen for now, and I know that sounds cruel, but the reason is that stories are intended to create a necessary distance for us to reflect and realize that we are characters in the parable.
Philip Yancey in Soul Survivor says, “In his story of the Prodigal son, Jesus does not dwell on the prodigal’s motive for return. The younger son feels no sudden remorse nor burst of love for the father he insulted. Rather, he tires of a life of squalor and returns out of selfish motives. Apparently, it matters little to God whether we approach him out of desperation or out of longing."
Ever feel as if you are in a “far away country”?
Can you tell your family about a time when you were so desperate you would do anything to eat? To make money? To just survive?
Dear God, I have been in that far away country before. Far from you, far from family, resentful, ungrateful, wasting what you’ve given me. You have shown me that what is more difficult than loving you is learning to be loved by you.