In Jewish culture at the time of Jesus, for the son to demand his father give him his share of the inheritance was absolutely unheard of. It was a shocking insult. Jesus was using, for then, a modern day story so that all the listeners could easily understand and relate to what He was saying. The lessons that Jesus wants to teach us from this story are so very relevant for us today. All Jesus’ hearers of this story would have been making their own judgements and criticising the son in their own way and perhaps relating the story in some way to their own lives. You can almost hear the gasps of the crowd - ‘How terrible’ ‘what a dreadful boy’ ‘should’ve known better’ ‘It’s the parenting I blame’. They knew what the son meant when he asked for his share of the inheritance. He was in effect saying, ‘Dad, I wish you were dead’. In the culture of those days the inheritance was only given on the death of the benefactor. Being a master story teller, Jesus really had the crowd’s attention at this point. We can easily tell that this was indeed a rebellious son.
So far as we know, the father graciously and quietly gave the son his share of the inheritance without remonstration. As if to say ‘OK, if that’s what you want, I will be dead to you, I won’t exist for you anymore. BUT you will always be alive to me; you will always be in my heart and mind’
This was proven when the son came back, after his senses came back. Actually, he might well have been expecting to be put to death because of his waywardness. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says, ‘If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and his mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, ‘this son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid’.
The crowd listening to Jesus would have would have known this passage of scripture well, being brought up on the Pentateuch. They would have thought something like ‘of course, the son is not worth it, he deserves to die’. No wonder the son was working out his story on the way back to his father. ‘Father’ he was going to say, ‘I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy (worth it) to be your son, make me like one of your hired men’ (Luke 15:18 – 19) - anything was better than the painful death he was expecting.
The son clearly didn’t know the father very well. Surprising the entire crowd, Jesus said the father ran to the son with arms open wide, embraced him and kissed him. Whilst the son had been away in his rebellious living, away from his father, the father had been waiting all the time for his son to return. The son had gone away and forgotten about his father, he was indeed dead to him, but for the father, the son was always alive, he had always remembered him. The father thought his son was ‘worth it’.
This story is a picture of the father heart of God. We may say we believe in Him and yet go off and do our own thing. We may completely rebel against Him and forget all about Him. We may be tempted away from Him into all sorts of trouble that on the surface seems enjoyable, yet in reality will cause us pain and heartache and more trouble in the long run. God may completely cease to exist for us; God may become dead to us.
However, through Jesus we are always alive to God and dead without Him. Jesus took the death for all of us that the son was expecting for himself. We are always remembered by Him. Let us remember that God always remembers us. How ever far we go from God, it’s always a good time for us to ‘come to our senses’ and return to Him without fear. He is waiting. Because we are worth it.
Prayer: Father God, I thank You for always ‘looking out’ for me and that Jesus is constantly interceding for me. You always remember me because You love me and want me to enjoy relationship with You. Even when I make mistakes, I can return to You and confess my wrong doing without fear. Please help me to see that those things that would tempt me away from You will only lead me into harm and heartache. Thank You, Jesus, for forgiving me and dying for me and for being punished instead of me, so that I can have eternal life. Amen.
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