Read Luke 15:11-32
Today’s search story is likely one of the most widely know of all the parables that Jesus ever told. Even those without a background in biblical teaching have likely heard the essence of the story or at least used the phrase “prodigal son.” But, for many, the familiarity stops around verse 24.
We’ll come back to that thought in a moment. But first, let’s pause to remind ourselves of the context for this teaching. You see, this is one of three stories Jesus told about lost things, those who sought the lost item, and the joy they experienced. One was a shepherd and his lost sheep. Another, a woman looked for her lost coin and celebrated its recovery. In today’s story, a father celebrates the return of his lost son.
In each instance, Jesus was trying to point out the reason He spent time with people who were removed from God. The lost items in His stories represented them, and the searcher’s passion and joy stood for His own.
So what is it that many of us overlook starting in verse 25? It is the fact that the parable doesn’t have the kind of happy ending we all would want. While the music plays, festive food is eaten, and there is high life with the son in the house, dad is outside with the older brother. Like the Pharisees and teachers mentioned in verse 1, this brother just couldn’t fathom how his younger brother’s tail-between-his-legs return from waywardness could be celebrated. Meanwhile, why was his own faithful service seemingly ignored?
Have you ever been in the shoes of the older son? Ever grumbled because someone, some group, some church seemed to give too much attention to the lost? Ever struggled because a baptism celebration seemed just a bit over the top? Ever had a “what about me” attitude? Perhaps the final words of the father can help you:
“’My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found’” (vv. 31, 32).