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Luke 15 – The Lost Son

This wisdom-story follows on from similar stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin. A man had two sons – classic wisdom language of two ways. The younger asks his father for a share of his property using a standard word for property. This is offensive because the younger son is basically saying to his father that he wants to bring forward into the present the circumstances which would exist at his father’s death!

In our English translations it says that the father divided his property among his two sons, the word ‘property’ being the same as what the son had requested. However, in Greek it is actually a different word. Literally it says that the father divided his life between them. Later the older son will speak of the younger son devoured his father’s life.

The son travels to a distant country where he squanders his father’s property. Having spent everything and experiencing life-threatening famine, the son hires himself out to a citizen of that far country. ‘Hired himself out’ is too mild. Literally he binds himself, unites with and cleaves to a citizen of that country. In other words, he is reduced to covenantal-servitude to a foreigner – a horrifying judgment on one who as a son of Abraham ought to have been covenantal bound in the LORD’s land. The picture of degradation is worsened by his longing for the unclean food of unclean pigs – which is denied to him!

Finally, he reflects in his heart how his father’s slaves have an abundance of bread (unlike his current experience of slavery). He recognizes that in his present circumstances he is perishing – literally he says that he is lost here in hunger. The son determines to return to his father and appeal for being received in the status of a slave.

The story says that while the son was distant (the same word used to describe the distant country), his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Some people have contrasted with how the shepherd searched for the sheep and the woman search for the coin with the way the father seems to simply wait for the son to come to him – but the language above with relation to seeing him while he was still distant implies that the father also searches for his son.

The language of his father running, embracing and kissing him echoes Esau’s response to seeing his prodigal brother Jacob. On that occasion, Jacob equated seeing Esau’s kindness with seeing the face of God (because Esau treated with kindness like God had). There is a subtle allusion therefore to the father being God.

The grace of the father is then evidenced in his restoration of the son covenantally – the best robe, the ring on his hand, shoes for his feet (i.e. not a barefoot slave).

And of course, the restoration is made complete with a joyful banquet – the theme of what has continued from Luke 14.