I wish to give credit where credit is due. This message did not originate from me. It was shared by Pastor George Annadorai, a pastor in Singapore. My spirit was stirred when I heard it, and I hope it will stir yours too. I will do my best to be as true to the original message as I can.
Luke tells three parables in chapter 15 of his gospel account. The Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parable of the Lost Son (or Prodigal Son). Of these three parables, the first two had happy endings. The shepherd, upon finding the lost sheep, “comes home, calls together his friends and neighbors” and celebrates. The woman who lost one coin and finds it also “calls her friends and neighbors together” and celebrates. Although there is a celebration in the third parable, where the father celebrates the return of his younger son, it ends on a sad note because the elder son was offended and would not join in the celebrations.
It has been commonly taught that the moral of this story is repentance and forgiveness. Repentance on the part of the wayward son (representing sinners that we are), and forgiveness on the part of the gracious and generous father (representing God who receives the repentant sinner and reinstates him as ‘son’). But there is another perspective to this story, another angel, another interpretation. The traditional interpretations have been disregarded one important fact: that Jesus was telling these parables to the Jewish people, particularly the Pharisees and scribes (see Luke 15:1). In interpreting Scripture, it is important to consider who the intended audience were. This would determine the meaning of the text.
And since these parables, particularly the Parable of the Lost Son, was spoken to the Jews, then the message must be one that is relevant to them – more to them than to us. What could it be?
The father in the parable is, obviously, God the Father. His two sons are the sons of God which comprises two groups: the Jews and the Gentiles. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes about God making the two one new man. The two he was referring to are the Jewish and Gentiles believers. Over the generations, since as early as the second century, the two had experienced animosity. But in Christ, the two shall be brought near once again.
The man had two sons, one elder and the other younger. The elder son would therefore represent the Jewish sons of God since they came first. They were the first to receive the Law of God, and the covenant. In Exodus 4:22, God, in no uncertain terms, declared that Israel (that is, the Jewish people) is His “firstborn”. A firstborn, as you know, stands to inherit a double-portion of the father’s inheritance.
The younger son would represent the Gentile sons of God. Due to Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, God made His salvation available to the Gentiles. But it is no reason for boasting on our part. Rather, we should be sober and careful because “if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either” (Rom 11:21). The job of the younger son, thus, is to provoke the elder son to jealousy.
At the end of the parable, the father puts on the dirty, smelly son the best robe, a signet ring, and sandals on his feet. Then he kills a fatted calf and throws a party to celebrate his son’s return.
Halfway (or somewhere thereabouts) the father notices that the elder son is nowhere to be found. He asks the servants, “Have you seen my son?” “No, my Master,” they answered him one after another. But when it came to the most senior servant, he said, “My master, your eldest son is in the fields. He refuses to come in.”
Immediately, the father leaves the party and goes on to the fields in search for his elder son. The conversation that transpire between father and son is well-known, so I will fast forward and bring us back to the party.
Soon, the younger son also notices something amiss. Father was not around. He asks the servants, “Have you seen my father?” “No, young Master,” they answered him one after another. But when it came to the most senior servant, he said, “Young master, your father is not here; he is in the fields with your brother. He refuses to come in.”
At this point of time, the younger son has a choice to make. Will he continue to party and enjoy the food and wine generously provided by his father, and make merry with his friends, or should he stop the celebrations and go and look for his brother.
Today, and for a long time now, the “younger son”, the Gentile church, has been celebrating, enjoying what the Father has generously provided. But he has been ignorant of the fact that the “father” and the “elder son” are missing from the party.
“The Father is missing?” (Is our constant prayer for God to come into our midst an unconscious acknowledgement of this fact? I wonder.)
Yes. He has left the party. He is working hard to persuade the “elder son” to come in.
We have been ignorant about this. But now you know. What would you do about it?
Would you stop the party, the celebrations, and do what you can to invite your “elder brother” to the party?
Undoubtedly, we are having a good time now. But think, how much more we will be rejoicing when the whole family – father and sons – is together again.