Luke 15:1-3, 11b-322017-05-26T18:45:49+00:00

Biblical Commentary
(Bible study)

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Check out these helpful resources
Sermons
Children’s Sermons
Hymn Lists
Biblical Commentary
Español Comentario

When Hospital Visits, Funerals and Meetings Overwhelm!

Every Sunday is a challenge––but some Sundays especially so.  SermonWriter can help.

We send a weekly package of materials (Biblical Commentary, children’s sermon, sermon, and more) to give you a giant head-start on your sermon preparation.  You take it from there.

Check it out!  We offer four FREE SAMPLES so you can test SermonWriter.  For more information, go to https://www.sermonwriter.com/free-sample

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32  Biblical Commentary:

LUKE 15. THE CONTEXT

This chapter includes three parables that deal with that which was lost but now is found. First is the Parable of the Lost Sheep (15:1-7). Second is the Parable of the Lost Coin (15:8-10). Third is the Parable of the Prodigal Son and his Elder Brother—in some places known as the Parable of the Lost Son (15:11-32). These parables share a note of great joy at finding that which was lost—joy that mirrors God’s joy at a sinner’s repentance (vv. 7, 10). The elder brother’s response to his brother’s return is a counterpoint to this joyous theme.

Some people treat Luke 15:11-32 as two parables: The Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the Elder Brother. Preachers are tempted to deal with the story of the prodigal son and leave the story of the elder brother untouched. There is, however, a problem with that. Jesus told these parables in response to the grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes, who were upset that Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus’ first two parables (lost sheep and lost coin) offer a mild rebuke to the Pharisees and scribes by reminding them of heaven’s joy over the repentance of a sinner. Then Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son to set up a more severe rebuke when he concludes with the story of the elder son. In other words, it is the “Elder Son” behavior of the Pharisees and scribes that prompted the telling of these three parables, and we do the third parable an injustice of we conclude with verse 24.

We also need to remember that there will be people in our congregations who most closely resemble the prodigal son and others who will most closely resemble the elder brother. These roles are not fixed. Sometimes, a person will most closely resemble the prodigal son at one time and most closely resemble the elder son at another time. Our preaching needs to address the spiritual condition of each of these types.

LUKE 15:1-3. THE PHARISEES AND THE SCRIBES MURMURED

1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming close to him to hear him. 2The Pharisees and the scribes murmured (Greek: diegonguzon—grumbled, complained, murmured), saying, “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.” 3He told them this parable.

“tax collectors and sinners were coming close to him to hear (Jesus)” (v. 1). Ordinary Jews despise tax collectors for two reasons. First, tax collectors work directly or indirectly for the hated Romans. Second, tax collectors often exact exorbitant taxes to line their own pockets.

The sinners’ sins are not specified. They might be either heinous crimes or simple lapses of religious observance. But Jesus goes where the need is. A doctor who refuses to touch a sick person would not be of much use. Earlier, Jesus said, “Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32—keep in mind that Luke, the author of this book, is a physician).

“The Pharisees and the scribes murmured” (diegonguzon—were grumbling, complaining, murmuring) (v. 2a). This is reminiscent of the Israelites of old who grumbled (or complained) about the way the Lord was leading them (Exodus 15:24; Deuteronomy 1:27; Joshua 9:18; Psalm 106:25).

The behavior of the Pharisees and scribes, notable for their strict religious observance, contrasts dramatically with the behavior of the tax collectors and sinners, notable for their sins. Sinners come gladly to hear Jesus, but religious authorities respond to Jesus with grumbling. They distance themselves from sinners, not understanding that they, too, are sinners.They avoid doing business with sinners or mixing with them socially.

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (v. 2b). “This fellow” is a dismissive way to refer to Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes refer to Jesus in this dismissive manner because they disapprove of his too-friendly attitude toward sinners.

For Jesus to welcome sinners and to eat with them makes it appear that he condones their behavior. Table fellowship implies full fellowship. It is this acceptance of the unacceptable that leads to the grumbling.

“He told them this parable” (v. 3). In response to the grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus gives three parables. The Gospel lesson for this week includes only the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Elder Brother.

By the time we get to the end of these parables, we can easily forget the grumbling which precipitated the giving of these parables. That is unfortunate, because the elder son, at the very end, mirrors the grumbling attitudes of the Pharisees and the scribes at the beginning.

LUKE 15:4-10. THE LOST SHEEP & THE LOST COIN

These two parables are not included in our Gospel lesson, but will appear in readings later this year. It is important, however, to remember that Luke records the three parables as a set of three: (1) The lost sheep (2) the lost coin and (3) the lost son. The first two parables are much alike, and are joined by the word “or” (v. 8). The third parable is more complex, but shares with the other parables:

• Something important being lost
• A person who searches or watches
• The rediscovery of that which was lost and
• Celebration.

LUKE 15:11-32. THE PRODIGAL SON & THE ELDER BROTHER

People love this parable because the father’s forgiveness reassures them that, no matter how they have sinned, God will eagerly welcome them home. That is certainly part of the message, but Jesus gave this parable in response to the grumbling of the Pharisees and the scribes. The story of the elder brother speaks to them—and to us when we succumb to self-righteousness.

We seldom hear the word prodigal used outside the context of this parable, and people often mistakenly assume that it means “bad.” Instead, prodigal means generous, abundant, or wasteful, so prodigality is not necessarily bad. God created species and resources prodigally (abundantly), and it was good (Genesis 1:31). A philanthropist can give money prodigally (generously) to a good cause. In this parable, prodigal takes on a negative tone because the younger son “wasted his property with riotous living” (v. 13), spending his money prodigally (wastefully).

As noted above, some people count this as two parables—the first about the younger son and the second about the elder son. However, the focus of the parable is not the sons but the father, who has two sons—each flawed in his own way. The father loves both sons, and seeks to restore the family, which has been broken by (1) the younger son’s departure from the father’s home and (2) the elder son’s estrangement even though he still lives at his father’s home. The father’s love and efforts at reconciliation bring unity to the parable.

LUKE 15:11-12. FATHER, GIVE ME MY SHARE OF YOUR PROPERTY

11He said, “A certain man had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of your property’ (Greek: bion—from bios). He divided his livelihood between them.

“Father, give me my share of your property” (bion—from bios—life, livelihood, living, possessions) (v. 12a). “The word used for ‘estate’ (bios) also means ‘life,’ ‘manner of life,’ ‘means of subsistence.’ The estate is what supports the life of the family” (Nolland, 782). It represents the father’s lifework, and is all that stands between the family and poverty.

Deuteronomy 21:17 specifies that the first son is to be given a double portion of the inheritance—so a father’s property is to be divided by the number of sons plus one:

• If there are two sons, the property is to be divided into three portions—two of which (67 percent) go to the elder son and the third of which (33 percent) goes to the younger son.

• If there are three sons, the property is to be divided into four portions—two of which (50 percent) go to the eldest son and one (25 percent) to each of the other two sons.

• If there are ten sons, the property is to be divided into eleven portions—two of which (18%) go to the eldest son and one (9 percent) to each of the other sons.

• All of these percentages must be revised downward somewhat if there are daughters in the family, because some money must be set aside for their dowries (Stein, 405).

Obviously, the percentage to be inherited by any son is diminished by each additional sibling. However, in all cases, the elder son receives twice as much as any other son. In a culture where large families are common, most inheritances will be modest. However, in a family with only two sons, the elder son’s inheritance will be substantial, and even the younger son can count on inheriting one-third of his father’s estate.

Typically, sons receive their inheritance on the death of their father, so the younger son’s request is impudent and disrespectful—”tantamount to saying to his father, ‘Drop dead'” (Van Harn, 407). A father might decide to distribute part or all of the inheritance early, but the initiative must be the father’s—not the son’s.

In the event that a son receives his inheritance prior to the father’s death, he is expected to stay at home to provide for his parents in their old age. That is part of what it means to “honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which Yahweh your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12).

Receiving an inheritance does not usually convey the right to dispose of the inheritance—to sell ancestral land and turn it into cash (Bailey, 164; Fitzmyer, 1087; Hultgren, 75; Vinson, 508). However, this son takes whatever he can get his hands on and leaves home as quickly as possible. Such conduct would be especially appalling in the Mideast, where one derives one’s identity from familial and community relationships.

This younger son is guilty of:

• Assuming the initiative that belongs to his father
• Treating his father as if he is dead
• Ignoring his obligation to his parents in their old age and
• Breaking the family relationship by leaving.

Such conduct is shameful. A father would be ashamed to have raised such a son. Neighbors would despise the son for disrespecting his father and the father for honoring the son’s request. They would thank God not to have such a son themselves.

“He (the father) divided his livelihood (bion—from bios—life, livelihood, living, possessions) between them” (v. 12b). The father’s land represents his life work—and, in a sense, his life itself.  The father’s continuing work on his plot of ground has made it possible for him to feed his family and to provide what they needed.  The father’s identity is intertwined with his land, so he would not easily part with it.

Most fathers would rebuke the younger son, but this father divides his property between his sons—meaning that the elder son receives his larger portion and the younger son receives his smaller portion.

The elder son should decline his inheritance as a protest against the younger son’s behavior and the father’s acquiescence to it (Bailey, 168), but fails to do so.  This is a first glimpse into the elder son’s self-centeredness, which will be confirmed when his brother returns.

LUKE 15:13-16. BUT NO ONE GAVE HIM ANY

13“Not many days after, the younger son gathered all of this together and traveled into a far country. There he wasted his property with riotous living. 14When he had spent all of it, there arose a severe famine in that country, and he began to be in need. 15He went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16He wanted to fill his belly with the husks that the pigs ate, but no one gave him any.”

“Not many days after, the younger son gathered all of this together and traveled into a far country” (v. 13a). The younger son gathers “all of this together”—the inheritance with which his father has entrusted him. The phrase, “a far country,” has to do with more than geography. The place where this young man goes is distant in miles, but is also distant with regard to values. This young man is distancing himself from his father and everything that his father stands for.

“There he wasted his property with riotous living” (v. 13b). We do not know what was in the younger son’s heart when he asked for his portion of the inheritance. Perhaps he intended to enjoy a bit of dissolute living, or perhaps he just had dreams of making it big on his own. Regardless of his original intent, when no longer subject to parental restraint, he lives and spends wildly. Jesus leaves the meaning of “riotous living” to our imagination. Later, the elder son will accuse the younger son of consorting with prostitutes (v. 30). That seems likely, but we do not know that it is true.

The younger son is alive and well today. We all want freedom. We want to do what we want to do when we want to do it. We chafe at accountability and resent supervision. We imagine that we could make it big if only we had a grubstake. If only I could get away from home. If only I had a new car. If only I could get a better job. If only I didn’t have the responsibility of a family. If only I could refinance these loans. If only…. The irony is that the lives of suddenly rich people often parallel that of the younger son. Quick riches cannot ennoble a life that is flabby at the core.

“When he had spent all of it, there arose a severe famine in that country, and he began to be in need” (v. 14). It would be hard to overstate the depths of this young man’s degradation. The Torah says, “The pig, because it has a split hoof hoof but doesn’t chew the cud, is unclean to you: of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch” Deuteronomy 14:8). Jews avoid all association with pigs, but this young man is reduced to serving pigs—setting their table—bringing their dinner—enduring their pushes and shoves—smelling their odor—tolerating their manners—envying their privileged status—even coveting their pig-food.

“He wanted to fill his belly with the husks that the pigs ate” (v. 16a). The traditional view is that these are carob pods, which, while unappealing, can be eaten by humans. If this is the case, either the younger son cannot bring himself to eat them or his employer will not permit him to do so.

“but no one gave him any” (v. 16b). Nada! Nothing! Not even a twenty-five cent tip! His friends from his wealthy days have deserted him. The pigs care nothing about him. Employers of menial labor are usually not very generous either.

LUKE 15:17-19. I WILL GET UP AND GO TO MY FATHER

17“But when he came to himself he said, “How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough to spare, and I’m dying with hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and will tell him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. 19I am no more worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.” (Greek: misthioi)

“But when he came to himself” (v. 17a). This “Aha!” moment has the potential to inspire repentance.

“How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough to spare, and I’m dying with hunger” (v. 17b). But this young man’s “Aha!” moment has less to do with repentance than with self-interest. Being a menial servant to a pig-farmer, he is hungry. He notes the contrast between his situation and that of his father’s servants, who have plenty to eat. It dawns on him that he could improve his situation considerably if he could persuade his father to hire him as a servant.

Note how far he has fallen. Once a full-fledged member of his family, he now covets the status of the servants who once were subject to his orders.

“I will get up and go to my father, and I will tell him, ‘Father'” (v. 18a). He realizes that he must take action—must get up—must go to his father—must ask for mercy.

This is the point at which a ruined life can be restored. It is the moment when a prodigal son (or an alcoholic or a drug addict or a sinner or whatever stripe) suddenly admits, “This isn’t working. I need to change. I can’t do it on my own. I need to ask for help.” At that point, restoration becomes possible—not certain, but possible.

“Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight” (18b). This young man’s sudden awareness falls far short of full repentance. Even though he practices this speech in which he admits his sins, he seems more calculating than repentant—more intent on persuading his father than on atoning for his sins—more concerned for his diminished circumstances rather than for the injury he has done to his family. This was not an attractive young man at the beginning of the story, and he has not suddenly become attractive now. He simply remembers on which side his bread is buttered, and is looking for a better deal.

“I am no more worthy to be called your son” (v. 19a). Having received his inheritance, the young man has no further claim on support from his father. Having distanced himself from his father and wasted his inheritance, he is a bad son.

“Make me as one of your hired servants” (v. 19b). The father has slaves (doulos) (v. 22), but the son, in his practiced speech, plans to ask for reinstatement as a hired hand or day-laborer (misthios) (v. 17, 19). While we might think of a slave as lowlier than a hired hand, scholars believe that a slave in that context had a closer relationship to the family than a hired hand—was more a part of the family, and often worked under the direct supervision of the master. The hired hand is employed as needed, and can be let go far more casually (Lindberg, 32). In modern terms, the difference between the slave and the hired hand is the difference between an employee and a temp worker. The younger son, then, is asking to return to the outermost ring of the family constellation—even more distant from the father than the father’s slaves.

LUKE 15:20-24. HIS FATHER RAN AND KISSED HIM

20“He arose, and came to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 21The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22“But the father said to his servants (Greek: doulous), ‘Bring out the best robe, and put it on him. Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat, and celebrate; 24for this, my son, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.’ They began to celebrate.”

“He arose, and came to his father” (v. 20a). A famine has become the instrument of the younger son’s salvation. Only at the bottom was he willing to consider returning home. God often uses adversity to bring us to our senses. In most cases, we cause our own misery, but God always stands ready to redeem our misery. God is in the business of making Easters out of Good Fridays.

We must credit the young man for taking this first step though. His father is his only hope, so he must be desperately afraid that his father will reject his proposal. What could he do then? He would be reduced to making the rounds of unsympathetic neighbors or trying to find employment with another pig farmer. Imagine the young man’s anxiety as he walks the long, dusty road home. We can imagine him practicing his little speech as he walks along—practicing until his mouth is dry. But, as fearful as he must be, he keeps putting one foot in front of the other—his hope stronger than his fear.

“But while he was still far off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (v. 20b). It is not coincidental that the father sees his son from afar. He has surely spent many long hours gazing down that road, hoping against hope to see his son returning. We can imagine his pulse quickening at the first glimpse—long before he can identify his son with certainty. He squints and, perhaps, asks one of the slaves to take a look. When he finally dares to believe that this is his son, his heart fills with compassion and his eyes fill with tears. No longer able to contain himself, he runs to embrace the son whom he had feared dead. It is this moment, full of pathos and grace that makes this such a beloved parable.

People would consider it undignified for a man to run, but the father cares not for popular opinion. He has a son to greet! This is a resurrection moment! His action may also stem from a secondary motive—making it clear to his family, servants, slaves, and neighbors that this young man is his son again. The father sets the tone. People cannot reject the son without rejecting the father.

The son must be a pitiful sight coming down the road—sweating—caked with dirt—dressed in his filthy pigpen clothing. No telling when he ate his last meal!

“Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (v. 21). The son gets to recite only the first part of his practiced speech. His father cuts him off before he can ask to be treated as a hired hand.

But the father said to his servants, “Bring out the best robe, and put it on him” (v. 22a). The father would be generous to receive the son back home with only a mild rebuke and a plan that the son could follow to redeem himself.

This father, however, goes far beyond that. He takes immediate steps to remedy the son’s situation. Dress this young man in a son’s clothing! Dress him for a party! Get him something to eat! It is far better than the son hoped for and far better than he deserves. It is a moment full of grace—one of those beautiful moments when everyone wins. The son gets better than he deserves, and the father gets, not a hired servant, but a son.

“Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet” (v. 22b). The robe, ring, and shoes convey dignity in the same way that a pinstriped suit and silk tie do today. They denote status. They signify that the father is returning this young man to the family. Servants don’t wear robes, rings, and shoes, but instead wear clothing that marks them as servants. The robe, ring, and shoes mark this young man as a family scion—the father’s son. Some scholars think of the ring as a signet ring, symbolizing the father’s authority, but that probably stretches things too far.

“Bring the fatted calf, kill it, and let us eat, and celebrate” (vv. 23). Meat is not part of the daily diet, but is reserved for special occasions. When meat is required, a family usually slaughters a sheep or goat, because the smaller animal represents a lesser investment than a calf and can be consumed more easily within the family circle. They reserve the fatted calf for great celebrations, because its larger size needs neighbors, perhaps the whole village, to do it justice. In slaughtering the fatted calf, the father involves the community—sends them a message that he has restored this son to sonship and therefore to community membership as well.

“for this, my son, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found!’ They began to celebrate” (v. 24). Note the contrast: dead/alive—lost/found. The father had almost, but not quite, given up hope. Now he has found what he had longed to find. His son is not only alive, but has come home. What a cause for celebration!

LUKE 15:25-30. NOW HIS ELDER SON WAS IN THE FIELD

25“Now his elder son was in the field. As he came near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the servants to him, and asked what was going on.27He said to him, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and healthy.” 28But he was angry, and would not go in. Therefore his father came out, and begged him. 29But he answered his father, “Behold, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed a commandment of yours, but you never gave me a goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this, your son, came, who has devoured your living with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.”

“Now his elder son was in the field” (v. 25a). The elder son was in the field doing what elder sons do—working like a slave (see v. 29)—serving faithfully—keeping the family afloat. It seems that, in the excitement, the father failed to dispatch anyone to tell the older son of the younger son’s return. Perhaps he knew that the elder son would spoil the celebration, and could not bear to call him home early.

“As he came near to the house, he heard music and dancing” (v. 25b). The elder son’s first clue to the party is the sound of music and dancing. It must be a lonely feeling to come from the quiet solitude of the fields at sunset, tired and dirty, to hear music and dancing. Even elder sons can enjoy music and dancing, but they need time to get ready—time to press their pants and shine their shoes and comb their hair—time to get in the mood. For this elder son, this party is more ambush than celebration.

“Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf” (v. 27a). And then the slave delivers the coup de grace. The dishonorable son has returned, and the party is in his honor. No wonder the elder son is angry!

“But he was angry and would not go in” (v. 28a). Don’t miss the irony—”The brother who had been on the outside is now on the inside, while the brother who had been on the inside is now on the outside” (Bock, 260).

“His father came out, and begged with him” (v. 28b). The father is as full of grace for his disobedient elder son as he was for his disobedient younger son. He comes outside to reconcile with the elder son just as he came outside to greet the younger son. The difference is that the younger son was open to whatever his father might say, but the elder son has hardened his heart.

This is a poignant moment. The father’s joy is shattered. He was celebrating having both sons under the same roof again, but now finds the elder son still outside, unwilling to enter the house or to take part in the celebration. The father was celebrating the end of his family’s brokenness, but now finds it broken in another place.

“But he (the elder son) answered his father, ‘Behold'” (v. 29a). Respectful address would begin with the word, “Father”—not “Behold!” The elder son orders his father to listen to the verbal threshing that he is about to deliver—takes on the role of a scolding parent—assumes authority over his father instead of deferring to his father’s authority over him.

“these many years I have served you” (v. 29b). Just as the younger son discounted his sonship by wanting to become a hired hand, so also the elder son has discounted his sonship by adopting the attitude of a slave.

“and I have never disobeyed a commandment of yours” (v. 29c). But the elder son has just refused to accept the father’s plea to join the celebration (v. 28a). The younger son demonstrated his estrangement by leaving home. Now the elder son demonstrates that he, too, has been estranged, even while living under his father’s roof and (in his mind) doing the father’s bidding. He has tried to earn the father’s love, but has never allowed himself to believe that his father loves him—and probably has never loved the father. Elder sons, keeping score and finding fault, find it difficult to love—and are therefore difficult to love.

“but you never gave me a goat, that I might celebrate with my friends” (v. 29d). The elder son admits that he could have found pleasure by having a party for his friends, but cannot find pleasure in having his brother returned from the dead—a damning admission!

The elder son’s complaint has much in common with the complaint of the laborers in the vineyard—“These last have spent one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat!” (Matthew 20:12). Those of us who have labored long hours in the hot sun can appreciate the difficulty involved in seeing a dilettante, freshly showered and nicely dressed, take home the honors.

“But when this, your son, came, who has devoured your living with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him” (v. 30). The elder son assumes that his brother spent his money on prostitutes, but he doesn’t know how his brother spent his money. He only wants to cast his younger brother in the worst possible light.

The elder son isn’t suggesting that the father turn his younger son away.  They could use another hired hand—someone to do the dirty work—someone to lighten the load— someone to carry out orders.

But the elder son does NOT need to hemorrhage money honoring this money-hemorrhaging brother!  He does NOT need a helper wearing silk instead of denim—a ring instead of work gloves—sandals instead of boots!  Let the younger son come home to face the music—to pay his debt to society—to set things straight.  Later there will be time to consider a pardon.  Let the younger son sweat first.  Give him time to prove himself—to redeem himself.

LUKE 15:31-32. YOUR BROTHER WAS LOST, AND IS FOUND

31He said to him, “Son (Greek: teknon—my child), you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.”

“Son (teknon), you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (v. 31). The elder son did not use the word, “Father,” to address his father, but his father uses the word, “Son,” to address him. The father could have said huios (son), but instead says teknon (my child), an even more tender, inviting word.

“But it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found” (v. 32). The elder son never acknowledges the younger son as his brother, but refers to him only as “this son of yours” (v. 30). The father refuses to let that stand, referring to his younger son as “this brother of yours” (v. 32).

The elder son refuses to enter the house to join in the party (v. 28)—a shocking public affront to the father. He should assist as host at a celebration. The father, however, does not rebuke him, but instead pleads with him to change his mind (v. 28).

In his callous disregard for his brother and his refusal to enter the house, the elder brother sets himself apart, not only from his younger brother, but also from his father. His actions suggest to the community that he has divorced himself from the family, an act every bit as shocking as that of the younger son.

Now the father, who extended grace to the younger son, extends grace to his elder son as well.  The father reassures the elder son that the younger son’s presence affects neither the father’s affection for the elder son nor the elder son’s inheritance.  Both are secure, and always have been.

This is good news for the elder sons among us.  It is often easier to love a dissolute younger brother than a prideful, judgmental elder brother—but the father’s love is broad enough to encompass both disobedient sons.

Jesus gave this parable in response to complaints to Pharisees and scribes who complained that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them (v. 2).  They need to hear that their inheritance is not diminished by God’s love for sinners.  They also need to hear that they have no right to draw boundaries that would exclude others from God’s presence.

But what can the father say to reassure a son who will not be reassured? Where the younger son was receptive as a sponge, the elder son is hard as a rock.

“But it is appropriate to celebrate and be glad, because this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found” (v. 32). How can anyone not celebrate the resurrection of a loved one?  The problem, of course, is that the elder brother does not love the younger brother—and there is some question whether he loves the father—and even some question whether he loves himself.  Jesus does not tell us the outcome of the father’s plea, but we are left with the impression that the father has one repentant younger son and one unrepentant elder son.

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible(WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Bailey, Kenneth E., Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976)

Barclay, William, The Daily Study Bible, The Gospel of Luke (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1953)

Bock, Darrell L., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Luke, Vol. 3 (Downers Grove, Illinois, Intervarsity Press, 1994)

Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)

Craddock, Fred B., Interpretation: Luke (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990)

Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)

Culpepper, R. Alan, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995)

Evans, Craig A., New International Biblical Commentary: Luke (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1990)

Fitzmyer, Joseph A., S.J., The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV (New York: Doubleday, 1985)

Gilmour, S. MacLean & Buttrick, George A., The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 8. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1952)

Green, Joel B., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)

Hendriksen, William, New Testament Commentary: Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978)

Johnson, Luke Timothy, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991)

Nickle, Keith F., Preaching the Gospel of Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000)

Nolland, John, Word : Luke 9:21—18:34, Vol. 35B (Dallas: Word Books, 1993)

Ringe, Sharon H., Westminster Bible Companion, Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press)

Stein, Robert H., The New American Commentary: Luke (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)

Tannehill, Robert C., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996)

Van Harn, Roger, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Text. The Third Readings: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)

www.sermonwriter.com

We welcome your feedback! [email protected]

Copyright 2004, 2010, 2012, Richard Niell Donovan