Today in Luke 15:1-32 we have the full context of the story of “The Prodigal Son.” We have more than the story of the wayward son who returns to his forgiving father.
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them he addressed this parable.
“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them
would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert
and go after the lost one until he finds it?
And when he does find it,
he sets it on his shoulders with great joy
and, upon his arrival home,
he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
I tell you, in just the same way
there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine righteous people
who have no need of repentance.
“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one
would not light a lamp and sweep the house,
searching carefully until she finds it?
And when she does find it,
she calls together her friends and neighbors
and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’
In just the same way, I tell you,
there will be rejoicing among the angels of God
over one sinner who repents.”
Then he said,
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,
‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’
So the father divided the property between them.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns,
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”
Here we find the full text to the story of the prodigal son. Often we are just presented with the latter half, the actual tale of the son who squanders his father’s legacy to live a life of debauchery only to realize he’s made a mistake and return to beg forgiveness. But today we see there’s more to the scripture reading.
In fuller context, this isn’t just about a father’s happiness in the repentance and return of his wayward son. We now see this is about the joy of Our Father in heaven about the truly repentant sinner over the one who daily needs no repentance. Or, seeing that Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees and scribes, this is about the preference of God The Father for one repentant sinner rather than a whole flock of self-righteous hypocrites.
This is a beautiful Gospel passage in the depth it shows for God’s love. On the one hand, it relays the love of The Father for the repentant sinner. On another, it shows that the smug who rejoice in their own righteousness aren’t loved more than the one who sees the error of his or her ways and returns to The Father. And on still another, it says that God will not leave a lost sheep or coin – metaphors for a person – unsought, His love is so great. It is also one more swipe at the self-righteous, who sneer at those they deem inferior for their sins.
Heaven itself lights up with joy each time one of us returns to God. As the father in the story in essence says to his steadfast son, I will love you always but “your brother has been lost and now is found”; it’s time to celebrate! For that reason, we must never look down on another person whom we perceive as a sinner. Jesus spent time with such as these, looking for the day they would be found or rejoicing on the day when they were. Ours shouldn’t be the supposition they never will be found but the expectation that one day they will – remember, with God all things are possible – and rejoice with The Father and all the angels in heaven.
I’m sorry to keep beating the same drum, but to me it’s the clearest message in the Bible: God loves us and wants us to love Him and one another. When we focus on our own self-righteousness we can’t be focused on God and others. Everyone can be found and loved. Everyone can be celebrated. If God can do it, shouldn’t we?