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Second Great Group of Parables.
(Probably in Peræa.)
Parable of the Lost Son.
C Luke XV. 11–32.
c 11 And he said, A certain man had two sons [These two sons represent the professedly religious (the elder) and the openly irreligious (the younger). They have special reference to the two parties found in the first two verses of this chapter —the Pharisees, the publicans and sinners]: 50212 and the younger of them [the more childish and easily deceived] said to his father, Father, give me the portion of thy substance that falleth to me. [Since the elder brother received a double portion, the younger brother's part would be only one-third of the property—Deut. xxi. 17.] And he divided unto them his living. [Abraham so divided his estate in his lifetime (Gen. xxv. 1–6); but the custom does not appear to have been general among the Jews. God, however, gives gifts and talents to us all, so the parable fits the facts of life—Ps. cxlv. 9; Matt. v. 45; Acts x. 34.] 13 And not many days after [with all haste], the younger son gathered all together and took his journey into a far country. [He yearned for the spurious liberty of a land where he would be wholly independent of his father. Thus the sinful soul seeks to escape from the authority of God]; and there he wasted his substance with riotous living. [Sin now indulges itself with unbridled license, and the parable depicts the sinner's course: his season of indulgences (vs. 12, 13); his misery (vs. 14–16); his repentance (vs. 17–20); his forgiveness (vs. 20–24).] 14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want. [Sooner or later sinful practices fail to satisfy, and the sense of famine and want mark the crises in our lives as they did in the life of the prodigal. The direst famine is that of the word of God—Amos viii. 11–13; Jer. ii. 13.] 15 And he went and joined [literally, glued] himself to one of the citizens of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed [literally, to pasture or tend] swine. [This was, to the Jew, the bottom of degradation's pit. They so abhorred swine that they refused to name them. They spoke of a pig as dabhar acheer; i. e., “the other thing.”] 16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. [The master upon whom he had forced himself did not deem his services worthy of enough food to sustain life; so that he would gladly have eaten the husks or pods of the carob bean, which are very similar to our 503honey-locust pods, if they would have satisfied his hunger.] 17 But when he came to himself [his previous state had been one of delusion and semi-madness (Eccl. ix. 3); in it his chief desire had been to get away from home, but returning reason begets a longing to return thither] he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: 19 I am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. [The humility of his confession indicates that the term “riotous living” means more than merely a reckless expenditure of money. But vile as he was he trusted that his father's love was sufficient to do something for him.] 20 And he arose, and came to his father. [Repentance is here pictured as a journey. It is more than a mere emotion or impulse.] But while he was yet afar off, his father saw him [being evidently on the lookout for him], and was moved with compassion [seeing his ragged, pitiable condition], and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. [Giving him as warm a welcome as if he had been a model son.] 21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son. [The son shows a manly spirit in adhering to his purpose to make a confession, notwithstanding the warmth of his father's welcome; in grieving for what he had done, and not for what he had lost; and in blaming no one but himself.] 22 But the father said to his servants [interrupting the son in his confession], Bring forth quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet [none but servants went barefooted]: 23 and bring the fatted calf [which, according to Eastern custom, was held in readiness for some great occasion (Gen. xviii. 7; I. Sam. xxviii. 24; II. Sam. vi. 13 ), and which some custom still exists], and kill it, and let us eat, and make merry [the robe, 504ring, etc., are merely part of the parabolic drapery, and are so many sweet assurances of full restoration and forgiveness, and are not to be pressed beyond this]: 24 for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. [The condition of the impenitent sinner is frequently expressed in the Bible under the metaphor of death—Rom. vi. 13; Eph. ii. 1; v. 14; Rev. iii. 1.] And they began to be merry. [Having thus finished his account of the openly irreligious, Jesus now turns to portray that of the professedly religious; i. e., he turns from the publican to the Pharisee. He paints both parties as alike children of God, as both faulty and sinful in his sight, and each as being loved despite his faultiness. But while the story of the elder son had a present and local application to the Pharisees, it is to be taken comprehensively as describing all the self-righteous who murmur at and refuse to take part in the conversion of sinners.] 25 Now his elder son was in the field [at work]: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. [He heard evidences of joy, a joy answering to that mentioned at verses 7 and 10; the joy of angels in seeing the publicans and sinners repenting and being received by Jesus—the joy at which the Pharisees had murmured.] 26 And he called to him one of the servants, and inquired what these things might be. 27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 28 But he was angry, and would not go in [he refused to be a party to such a proceeding]: and his father came out, and entreated him. [In the entreating father Jesus pictures the desire and effort of God then and long afterwards put forth to win the proud, exclusive, self-righteous spirits which filled the Pharisees and other Jews— Luke xiii. 34; Acts xiii. 44–46; xxviii. 22–28.] 29 But he answered and said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee [literally, I am thy slave], and I never transgressed a commandment of thine [He speaks with the true Pharisaic spirit 505(Luke xviii. 11, 12; Rom. iii. 9). His justification was as proud as the prodigal's confession was humble]; and yet thou never gavest me a kid [much less a calf], that I might make merry with my friends [he reckons as a slave, so much pay for so much work, and his complaint suggests that he might have been as self-indulgent as his brother had he not been restrained by prudence]: 30 but when this thy son [he thus openly disclaims him as a brother] came, who hath devoured thy living with harlots [and not decent friends such as mine], thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me [a privilege which the elder brother had counted as naught, or rather as slavery], and all that is mine is thine. [See Rom. ix. 4, 5. The younger brother had the shoes, etc., but the elder still had the inheritance.] 32 But it was meet to make merry and be glad [Acts xi. 18]: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost and is found. [Here the story ends. We are not told how the elder brother acted, but we may read his history in that of the Jews who refused to rejoice with Jesus in the salvation of sinners. At the next Passover they carried their resentment against him to the point of murder, and some forty years later the inheritance was taken from them. Thus we see that the elder brother was not pacified by the father. He continued to rebel against the father's will till he himself became the lost son. A comparison of the three preceding parables brings out many suggestive points, thus: The first parable illustrates Christ's compassion. A sentient, suffering creature is lost, and it was bad for it that it should be so. Hence it must be sought, though its value is only one out of a hundred. Man's lost condition makes him wretched. The second parable shows us how God values a soul. A lifeless piece of metal is lost, and while it could not be pitied, it could be valued, and since its value was one out ten, it was bad for the owner that it should be lost. God looks upon man's loss as his impoverishment. The first two parables depict the efforts of Christ in the salvation of man, or that 506side of conversion more apparent, so to speak, to God; while the third sets forth the responsive efforts put forth by man to avail himself of God's salvation—the side of conversion more apparent to us. Moreover, as the parabolic figures become more nearly literal, as we pass from sheep and coin to son, the values also rise, and instead of one from a hundred, or one from ten, we have one out of two!]
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