Read: Luke 15:11-32
Lost is a heart-breaking word. Whether it’s connected to death, defeat, directions or possessions, it can bring us face-to-face with emotions ranging from frustration and anger to the very deepest grief. And in this parable, Jesus shined light on a subtle truth: sometimes we’re lost and we don’t even know it.
The Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is not only about things lost and found, it’s about open and hidden sin, and grace lavished on the least deserving. Isn’t it just like Jesus to offer hope even to those who have gone astray, who have chosen the wrong road? In this story, Jesus was saying “whoever you are, My grace is sufficient; wherever you’ve been, My truth will search you out, and whatever your sin, there is a Way home.”
The obvious sinner in this story – the son who demanded his inheritance then watched the gleaming gold coins flow like water through his fingers – was ultimately repentant. He’d lost all he’d been given and found himself face down in regret and despair, feeding pigs and abandoned by his “friends” in the far country. Yet, it wasn’t his dire circumstances that woke him up; it was the memory of his father’s goodness. It was the memory of the love his father showed even to his servants that righted his heart and set his sights on home.
He was still a long way off when, in the distance, the son saw a feeble figure moving steadily toward him. The young man blinked his eyes in disbelief – the figure was his father, and he was running to meet him. The son was still covered in pig filth, but his father wrapped his arms around him and kissed his face without flinching. “I have sinned…I am not worthy,” the son began. And the father replied by putting a ring on his finger, a robe around his shoulders, and shoes on his feet – garments of reconciliation. Then he escorted his son into a party given in his honor. Grace that washes an open, repentant sinner clean deserves a celebration.
Next Jesus introduced the second son – the older brother, who was diligently working in his father’s field when sounds of life drew him home. After hearing the news of his brother’s return, this son remained outside – cut off by bitterness, self-righteousness and anger. So the father came to him. Not in frustration, not exasperated by his son’s lack of compassion – but to plead: Join us in our joy!
This son was loyal and law-abiding, but his response revealed the hard heart that was hiding behind those good deeds: “I have served…I never disobeyed… .” Here, pride and entitlement thrust their ugly heads high and shout, “When am I going to get the respect I deserve?!” Rather than admonish his oldest son’s sinful attitude, the father painted a beautiful picture of grace: “You are always with me … all I have is yours…be glad with me – can’t you see? Your brother left a dead man and has come back home alive!”
There is no resolution to the final conflict in this parable; we are left to ponder the brother’s response. Jesus’ teaching must have been like a cup of cold water to those who had drawn near with ears to hear. But for the stiff-necked law-keepers hiding in the corners, His message was lost. This grace was too much to take in. We know where all this leads: rejection, betrayal and death. But that’s still not the end of the story. Whether we are lost in selfishness or self-righteousness, the Father longs for all to come to Him. Jesus teaches that no country is too far, no heart is too hard, no child is too lost to be found in Him. Jesus will always pursue us with love, wrap us in grace, and restore us with joy.