The Lost Sons
A young man was to be sentenced to the penitentiary. The judge had known him from childhood, for he was well acquainted with his father–a famous legal scholar and the author of an exhaustive study entitled, “The Law of Trusts.” “Do you remember your father?” asked the magistrate. “I remember him well, your honor,” came the reply. Then trying to probe the offender’s conscience, the judge said, “As you are about to be sentenced and as you think of your wonderful dad, what do you remember most clearly about him?”
There was a pause. Then the judge received an answer he had not expected. “I remember when I went to him for advice. He looked up at me from the book he was writing and said, ‘Run along, boy; I’m busy!’
When I went to him for companionship, he turned me away, saying “Run along, son; this book must be finished!’ Your honor, you remember him as a great lawyer. I remember him as a lost friend.” The magistrate muttered to himself, “Alas! Finished the book but lost the boy!” – Homemade, February, 1989.
How interesting that the Gospel lesson for this Sunday falls on Father’s Day. Luke 15 is the story of two lost sons. We usually focus only on the younger son.
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.
Here are some observations from the text.
- The young man brought dishonor to his father. By requesting his inheritance, he was breaking the commonly held practices of how estates and succession were handled. The older brother determined how the estate was divided. By going around the older brother and impatiently wishing his father was dead, he was not only out of line but disrespectful.
- On top of the inappropriate request, the young man takes this very generous gift and then squanders this future on parties and wild living. Now, this party animal is broke and must return home tail between his legs but not until he is thoroughly cut off, physically and spiritually. His work with the pigs made this Jewish boy unclean and unwelcomed in the temple.
- As the lost son returns home he realizes he deserves no grace and favor from his Father. He only hopes that he can gain acceptance as a servant. But to his surprise his father runs out to meet him. One important cultural note here, we often picture this scene as a Hallmark moment. The father running across a field of daisies arms extended to embrace his son. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This father is sprinting in a humiliating way to save his son’s life. Because of the dishonor and shame he brought on the family by his actions, he deserved punishment even death. Instead of death he receives underserved grace and forgiveness. Contrast that to the father above. One father is engaged, one father distant. One father has a son who turns away but comes back the other forces his son away because he is distant and disengaged.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
This parable ends with a twist. Not only is the son shown amazing grace he is restored. The action of putting a robe, ring, and shoes on the lost son are all symbols of sonship. The once lost son is restored to his rightful place as an heir.
The older son comes home to the sounds of celebration and you can imagine his confusion and anger. He was the faithful one. Yet, the party was being thrown for the irresponsible son. Have you felt that way as a life-long believer, that somehow you have never been properly thanked for your faithfulness?
A question for you to ponder, why did you remain faithful? Did you do it to earn the father’s heart? Did you do it so He would recognize your good works and show you His favor? If so, you were lost too.
The father never desired your works. You never had to earn His favor, you always had His favor. What the father wanted from you was a relationship. Hear the words the Father had for the other lost son;
“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’
The parable of the lost son is the story of restoration for not one but two lost sons. Which lost son are you today? No matter which one you are your Heavenly Father is calling you home with forgiveness and grace.
Rev. B. Keith Haney is Assistant to the President for Missions, Human Care, and Stewardship of Iowa District West. He has been an ordained pastor for twenty-seven years and has served multi-ethnic urban congregations in Detroit, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. He is the author of numerous devotionals, including One Nation under God: Healing Racial Divides in America. He is married to Miriam (Bickel) Haney, and they have six children and two grandchildren.