Luke 15:1-2,7,10,31-32 | Luke 19:10

No cheese puffs were harmed in the making of this episode.

The story of the Prodigal Son may be Jesus’ best known parable. On the surface, it is a story of wild living and forgiveness. Digging deeper, it paints a vivid picture of God’s longing for us, his wayward kids, to confess our unfaithfulness and return to being his children.

Many people see themselves as the Prodigal, who went off and squandered all the riches provided for him in a fit of selfish silliness. Others relate to the older brother, who dutifully stayed home and faithfully worked the fields, only to see his irresponsible brother honored with sweet homecoming parties.

But what was Jesus’ point in telling this rich parable?

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

(Luke 15:1-2 NLT)

Jesus starts with a simple question about a man who loses one of his hundred sheep. Wouldn’t he ditch the herd and set off on a quest for that one lost sheep? Yes, he would. Because even though it’s just one sheep… Hey, one sheep is valuable! And wouldn’t he throw a big ‘found my sheep’ party and invite all his friends? Yes, again.

In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

(Luke 15:7 NLT)

Then Jesus launches into a follow up scenario in which a woman loses a silver coin worth a day’s wages. Won’t she grab a light and scour the house until she finds it? Then call friends, neighbors, and family members to tell them how happy she is that she found it?

In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

(Luke 15:10 NLT)

And finally, Jesus lays this whopper of a parable on us, “to illustrate the point further.” The point being: Jesus came to bring lost people home.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

(Luke 19:10 NLT)

If you think you might be a lost cause, you could not be more wrong. God your Father will run to meet you if you come to him humbly confessing your wrongdoing.

“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

(Luke 15:31-32 NLT)

On the other hand, if you are a faithful child of God who has never left the homestead…don’t be afraid to go in and join the party.

Questions for Group Discussion

  • What are some words to describe the father in this parable? How do you think this father would be to have a conversation with? To work with? To negotiate with?
  • How does the picture of God in this parable compare to your personal picture of God? Do you ever get caught up in thinking of him as an enforcer of rules?
  • How do you feel about the treatment of each brother in the parable? Was the younger brother responsibly dealt with? Was the older brother given a fair shake? 

Challenge: Prodigal Revisionism

It is not a good thing to write your own version of the Bible. But it is good to struggle through difficult sections of scripture until you fully understand them and their revelation of God’s love.

With that in mind…

If you were to hazard a rewrite of this Parable of the Prodigal Son, how would you do it? 

Would you add some consequences for the younger brother? Would you have the older brother soften up and join the party?

Give it a shot:

  1. Read Luke 15:11-32. Ask God for insight into the story.
  2. Write down any questions about the story as they arise.
  3. Sort your questions into two categories: 
    • Questions of Understanding
    • Why did they do that?
  4. Answer your questions of understanding by using commentaries (, notes in a study Bible, etc.) or through discussing them with your church leaders.
  5. For the second category, don’t spend any time wondering, “Why did they do that?” Instead, revise the story to make it work better for you. Add text, omit sections–whatever.
  6. When finished, read your revision and see how the story is affected. Repeat the questioning and revision process as much you like.
  7. Write down any insights you gain from this exercise.

Suggested Prayer

Father, thank you for loving me so much that you come running out to meet me when I come back to you. Thank you for forgiving me, and for restoring me to your family. Help me to know you as my loving father. Please show me the depths of your great love for me and give me the words to share it with the people I know. In Jesus’ name, Amen.