Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son is well-loved for good reason. However, the title reveals that our primary focus tends to be on the younger son. We call him prodigal because prodigal means “wastefully or recklessly extravagant” (Dictionary.com) and the younger son blew his money in reckless living. In The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, Timothy Keller points to the father as the main character. Keller calls the father prodigal for the recklessly extravagant way he lavishes his love and grace on his two sons. Keller’s book has influenced my work here.
In this parable, Jesus draws our attention to both sons. He invites us to see ourselves in one or both sons and to see that both were lost and needed the father’s prodigal love to bring them home. Finally, as Keller has noted, the parable points us to the lavish love of our Father and to Jesus as our True Big Brother. We don’t want to lose the forest for the trees. This parable has three main points, built around its three main characters and their conduct.
- The Younger Son represents those who leave the covenant community for the world but repent and return to their Father.
- The Older Son represents those who are inside and even lead the covenant community, but whose hearts are far from God and react negatively to the father’s prodigal grace in Christ.
- The Father represents our Father in heaven Who pours out His prodigal grace and love on lost children to return them home.
With parables, we must be careful not to press every detail to find a deeper, spiritual meaning. I hope I haven’t fallen into that trap! My aim is simply that this story and its details prompt us to:
- consider the dynamics of our own hearts and communities today,
- bask in the wonder of our Father’s prodigal love for us in Christ,
- and join our Father and True Older Brother in pursuit of the lost as those who share His heart.
Tax collectors and sinners
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. – Luke 15:1
Scripture reading: Luke 15:1-3,11-32
Tax collectors and sinners: Israel’s God had welcomed them into His family as infants. They grew up hearing God’s Word. They knew what God had done for His people but they had walked away from God and the church. They had not darkened the synagogue door in years. They were cut off from God and the covenant community.
The tax collectors had Roman government jobs. Their supervisors assigned them a territory and a sum to collect. It was up to them to levy surcharges to cover their costs and supplement their salaries. They abused their power to fleece their people. Others despised them as traitors.
The “sinners” had drifted away from God. They immersed themselves in the surrounding Greco-Roman culture. They partied hard, slept around and embraced pagan ideas and customs contrary to God’s Word. They turned from their God, the fountain of living water, and dug for themselves broken cisterns that could hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13).
A great chasm separated the tax collectors and sinners from the pulpits where God’s Word was proclaimed. The same is true in our society today. Many, cut off from Christ in our culture, grew up in churches or can trace their lineage to Christian ancestors. Maybe one of them is your son or daughter and you feel it deeply.
The gospel proclaimed in pulpits is still the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). Who will cross the chasm to enflesh that gospel among the tax collectors and “sinners”?
Suggestions for prayer
Thank God for the gift and power of the gospel. Ask God to use you and your church to proclaim and embody that gospel among the lost.
Rev. Richard Zekveld is the pastor of the Covenant Fellowship Church (PCA) in South Holland, Illinois, a Chicagoland suburb. This daily devotional is also available in a print edition you can buy at Nearer to God Devotional.