I’m sure most Christians are familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son. But my daughter told me about a Bible study she was in a couple of months ago where she learned in the Middle East it was referred to as the story of The Running Father. It was not so much about a rebellious son repenting and coming to his right mind but instead the story was about the actions of a father. This intrigued me, so I began my own study on this concept (Luke 15:11-31). The following hopefully will bless those who want to see another take on this parable.
In Luke 15 before you even come to this story you have the shepherd that searches for the one lost sheep (4-7). Most sermons focus on the one lost sheep instead of the heart of the shepherd and His commitment to his sheep. It is revealed in verse 7, Jesus states the attitude of heaven is one which reflects the attitude and heart of our God, which was joy. The same with the woman who searches for the lost coin (8-10). Again, the emphasis needs to be on her heart and commitment in finding the coin. Here again it reflects the heart and attitude of heaven in verse 10, even the angels are rejoicing over the lost being found.
Jesus is pointing to the heart of the Father in heaven. It’s about a shepherd and his dedication to search, not so much a lost sheep, or a dedicated woman to find, not so much a lost coin. These are the parables leading up to the prodigal son. The emphasis is on the attitude and heart of the one searching and not so much on what was lost.
Now what is lost is important but really understanding the heart of the one searching and the attitude of heart toward what was lost is the emphasis. So looking at this third parable we should put the emphasis on understanding the attitude of the heart, and the commitment of the father. Also, to truly see this we need some insight into the culture of a Jewish community during this time period as well.
Cultural Observations in a Jewish Community at this time.
To ask for his inheritance was the same as saying his father was dead to Him.
For the Father to give him what he asked for would mean putting into cash what would have been his share, of the land, livestock, business, etc..The father would have to act on the premise of how much would the son get if He were dead. The whole time the father is putting this share together it’s as if he were dead. As the Father does this it would have been heartbreaking to him. This would not have been an overnight transaction, it would have required a little time. This means there would have been tension throughout the family which the son’s action brought on all of them. The entire household would have known what was going on and most likely the community as well. This could not have been a task done in secret or overnight without others involved and knowing full well what was happening. It would have brought dishonor, embarrassment, and shame on not just the father but the family as well.
A Kezazah Ceremony) Hebrew: cutting off; It was the technical term used when a family severs its connection to a member of their family. It is where the family and community disown the individual.The whole community gathers to meet with the individual at the city gate, and the elders would break a large clay pot in front of him and say out loud for all to hear, “You are now cut off from your people!” and then the community would totally reject him and sever all ties. It’s interesting that according to some historical accounts during the kezazah, if it was a child the father was not allowed to be present. However, the mother could attend and ask for mercy for the child, but not the father.
The son was old enough to know all of the implications that went with this, to his family, to his community, culture, traditions, he was turning his back to all of this. In a manner of speaking, he wanted absolutely nothing to do with any of them any longer. He wanted to be completely separated from His father, family, and community in which they lived.
The wording here implies he left to live and eventually join himself to non Jewish people, which was forbidden for Jews.
He obviously lived way above his means and making poor decisions which eventually cost him everything. He was, in our terms, flat busted broke, completely penniless. He goes from the stature of one who has money and influence to one who becomes a servant. This would have been very humiliating to him. During this time period It states he came to his senses, further stating he knew he sinned against God and his father and was not worthy to be a son but maybe a hired hand. He knew even the servants of his father’s house were treated better than his own life at that moment. His thinking is in the mindset of a servant, a hired hand. He is not thinking as son any more. His image has changed completely.
Now let’s pick up in scripture the response of the father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. 25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 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.'” NIV
A long way off:(20) He knew it was his son even at a long distance off. His son could not have looked the same yet the father knew it was his own. For him to react as he did it would have been already in his heart to do so if given the opportunity. There had to have been a hope that one day he would return, something he must have continually thought about. The point was he had never forgotten his son.
Filled with compassion:(20) (Compassion; to take action to relieve the suffering of another, compassion is the action of mercy. The word compassion is not just a feeling but is the action taken to lift and if possible take the suffering off of the one needing compassion.)
Instead of disdain or contempt it was the opposite reaction. This was the son who told his father you are dead to me and I want nothing to do with you anymore, yet the father was filled with compassion. Upon seeing His son he felt the condition of His son and wanted to relieve him of his suffering. The son feeling shame, humiliation, and embarrassment, truly at his lowest possible point as a human being received only compassion from His father.
He ran to his son:(20) This small part of the parable was huge, in this culture and time period. It was seen as an undignified action for a person of his stature and influence in the community to run. Men of his status just did not run. To run required he lift up his garment and expose his legs. Men in his position have servants to do the running. However, him running to his son immediately reveals his heart. He knew how people would react to his son returning. But before anyone could condemn or reject his son, He got to him first. By running to his son he also drew attention to himself, taking the attention off his son and his condition. The father made sure by his actions the community could see plainly the position he had concerning his son making sure no one could say anything else. The father completely accepted his son`s return.
The son is fully aware of what he should expect from his father. But instead sees his father running towards him. The son had to have thought the same as everyone else, why is He running toward me? He knew he was not worthy to be a son but he could be a hired servant. The son didn’t even get all of his rehearsed speech out, his father hugged and kissed him which would have been a shock to the son as well as everyone else. The son knew how He treated his father, Yet his father acted as if it never happened. Instead he starts the process of restoring his son to his place as a son born into his family. To the father even though the son told him he was dead to Him, He was and always would be His son. The father only saw his son. The father shows He would have it no other way. The suffering this young man endured, even though self-inflicted, was instantly lifted off of him by his father.
This is why in the thinking of Middle East culture it was titled “the Running Father ”. The focus is not so much on the son but on the father’s actions. Jesus was making the point of God the Father’s heart, how the Father in heaven sees us and how He responds to us when we come to Him. It’s hard to picture God the Father in heaven so excited to see us returning home that He would run toward us, yet this is the picture Jesus wants us to see. God sees us no other way but as his children. He sees Himself as our Father and us as His son or daughter.
Quick, bring the best robe, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.(22) The father instantly restored him to the status of a son, his son, making a distinction between a servant and his son. He obviously had to look disheveled and more like a servant. But the father never saw him any other way, but as his son. The robe instantly covers his son, gives him honor back and changes the condition he was found in, the ring signifies to all His identity and who he belongs to and belongs with, his authority and position in the family given back to Him. The sandals give purpose to his path again, no longer a servant but a son, remember he had fallen to the place of a hired servant, now he is restored back to a son. The Father never once brings up the past, except to say He was dead but now alive, he was lost but now found.
The father throws a feast,(23-24)
He celebrates and displays publicly how he sees his son who just returned. He is overwhelmed with joy. Everyone from servants to the rest of the community would have known what was happening. Even more importantly, it would have revealed to everyone the position the father took concerning his son.
Through this parable Jesus is revealing how God sees all of us. He is painting a picture of His Father’s heart toward those who are lost. The minute we turn and start toward home He watches and sees us. Even a long way off He runs toward us. He doesn’t care what anybody else thinks. This is truly the definition of His grace. An unmerited love and favor which no man deserves but still receives from God. He never brings up the past mistakes. He doesn’t focus on who we were or what we have done but the focus is on how God the Father sees us and who we are to Him. He instantly restores us to our rightful and proper place in His family. He covers us, He gives back our dignity. He establishes us as one of His own with the position of one born into His family. His heart is ecstatic, and overwhelmed to see us come home. He is rejoicing, celebrating when we come home. All of heaven above reflects His attitude of celebration and joy.
The Other Son:(25-32)
Obviously the other son had a bad attitude. He probably felt justified to some extent. His focus was on what His brother had done and who he had become. However, this is not how the father saw things. Look at the father’s response to what this son says, and how he says it. The other son states he has slaved for his father, always obeying His father and yet never received a party with the fatted calf. He states his brother was wicked and not deserving. His focus was on the worth of who he had become. He saw only his brother’s past actions. This son thought he was better. He judged and looked down on his brother for his past actions. He thought His actions made him special to his father, he was different and not like his brother.
This son did not know his father’s heart like he should have. Jesus points out that even though this son was not like the returning son, he still did not know who his father really was and his attitude and heart was wrong.
The father corrects this son’s view of his brother. The father saw this son the same as he saw the returning son, no different. I think of how often Christians make condemning remarks, in the same way as the other son did, by feeling superior, “I’m not like them”. But by the fathers response we know this is not what he wanted from his son. He should have had the same heart and attitude of his father. This son should have been rejoicing, overwhelmed to see the return of his brother just like his father. Forgetting his past mistakes and seeing only as a brother restored back into the family.
This is a good place to look at our lives, especially if we have been walking with the father for any length of time. Do we still see ourselves by our past actions? Now that we are home and we have been serving God for sometime, what is our place and position? Do we see ourselves like the other son, quick to judge others by their past. Do we think since we have been serving God all these years we are better?
To mature and grow and keep the same heart and attitude of our Heavenly Father is what Jesus is wanting us to see. This is what Jesus displayed through His life, death and resurrection. We are to continually have in our mind how joyful it is to see a returning son or daughter and that He sees us the same as He did when we returned home. We should encourage anyone to see themselves the way the Father sees them. This is how He always sees us, we are special but no more special than anyone else who has returned home. So what the father tells his other son is the mindset the Father wants all of us to have.
We are completely totally accepted with God as one of His own. You are one of His children accepted just like He accepts Jesus. You must be secure in how He sees you. No one has a right to say anything else. This is our place and position with the Father. He put the best robe on us, put a ring on us, and sandals on our feet. We now have the right to see ourselves this way and should always see ourselves this way. God only sees a son, He only sees a daughter. He sees nothing else because He fully accepted you. Just because He rejoices when another son or daughter who returns home does not mean they are any more special then you. He sees us all the same and treats us all the same.
You always have me(31)
We can always rely on Him being there with us and for us. He proved this with the son that was lost. He proved this with Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The true question is, are we enjoying being with Him or is He still a distant Father? His position is for us to be with Him and to enjoy every aspect of Him and His Father’s heart toward us.
All I have is yours(31)
Everything of God’s is ours, He has never held anything back from us. All He has is ours. He shows no partiality but freely accepts us as a full family member with all the rights and privileges which come with our place with Him.