Recently, I learned something new about the parable of the prodigal son I’d like to share with you. I hope it will bless you as it did me.
You more than likely know the story. The younger son of a man asks his father for his share of the estate before the father dies, basically wishing the father dead so he can receive an early inheritance. The father agrees and divides his wealth between his two sons. The younger son went off, willful and full of pride, to a far land and squandered the money on wild living. When a famine swept over the country, the Scripture says, “...he began to starve” (Luke 15:14 NLT).
Somehow, he managed to hire himself out to a local farmer who sent him out to feed his pigs (a huge no-no for a good Jewish boy). The young man was so hungry, even the food he fed the pigs looked good to him.
Finally, he came to his senses, realized his father’s servants had more than enough food to eat, and decided to go home. On his way, he thought about what he was going to say to his father. “I will go home to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant’”(Luke 15:18-19 NLT).
In ancient Judaism, there was a ceremony called Kezazah. It cut off any Jew who lost the Jewish family inheritance to a Gentile. It took place when someone left home, rejected the principles of the community, and lost all their possessions to a non-Jew.
During the ceremony, the villagers broke pottery at the wayward person’s feet, symbolizing they were no longer in fellowship with the returning person –all relations were broken. The goal was to shame the individual and make them feel completely empty. The ceremony took place outside the village before the person could make their way home.
While on his way back to his father, the prodigal son thought the only way he could avoid the Kezazah - the shaming, estrangement, and cutting of all ties, was to earn back every penny of the inheritance he lost. Thus, the statement in Luke 15:19 (NLT), “’...I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.’”
When the son “...was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20, NLT). Why did the father run? In Middle Eastern culture, an older man, especially the head of a wealthy family, would never run. If he did so, he would have to take up the long robe he wore and tie it above his knees, thus baring his legs and making him look shameful. Even today, men in the Middle East will not expose their legs in this way.
So again, why did the father run? I believe it was to protect his son from the Kezazah ceremony. He had to get to the son before the rest of the community did, so he could protect him from the broken pottery, shame, rejection, and statement that relations had been broken.
Verse twenty says the father was filled with love and compassion when he saw his son. The root word of compassion means ‘innards”. The father felt so deeply, it even registered in his intestines. He agonized at what had become of his son. But instead of being filled with anger, he was stirred with compassion.
In love, he took his son, probably still smelling of the pig pen, into his arms and embraced him. By doing so, he showed his son he had not rejected him and would heal his shame so he could return home.
The reason for the parable of the prodigal son is found at the beginning of Luke 15. “Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people -even eating with them!” (Luke 15:1-2 NLT).
Jesus then told three parables about things that had been lost –the lost sheep, the lost coin, and finally, the lost son, and the rejoicing when the lost was found.
To me, the parable of the prodigal son is such a beautiful picture of God’s amazing grace and love for us. By nature, we rebelliously go our own way and make a mess of things, but if we turn to Him and repent, He will wrap His loving arms around us in all our filth, forgive us, and shower us with His love.
We can’t work our way into the Father’s good graces, as the prodigal son thought. Our only requirement is to truly repent.
Dear friend, if you’ve never received the bottomless, never failing love of God, receive it today. And if you’ve wandered away, turn around and come back. Either way, He will meet you with His arms outstretched, full of love and compassion.
In this Blog, I want to share with you some of the things I've learned from many years of following Jesus.