Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
“The Sinners Heard Him Gladly”
On this fourth Sunday in Lent we take a look at the well-known parable of the prodigal son, which is probably better referred to as the parable of the two sons.
The lesson begins by showing us who this parable is directed towards. The text says that the tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes see this and complain about Jesus. How could a true righteous and holy man welcome and eat with sinners? In those days to eat with someone was a sign of acceptance, something the Pharisees would never do with prostitutes and tax collectors, murderers and thieves.
So we have two groups at hand for Jesus’ parable—the sinners and the “righteous.”
With both groups gathered, Jesus tells the parable of the two sons.
He starts with the younger, more well-known son. From the start the son says to the Father, “Give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” Now this may not sound like a deeply irreverent and disrespectful request to us, but in the ancient world asking for your inheritance before your father died was anathema. It was tantamount to wishing your father dead. This request would have been scandalous to Jesus’ listeners. The younger son was essentially saying, “Father I want your things, I don’t want you” (Tim Keller “Gospel in Life”).
Now the listeners, both sinners and Pharisees would probably have expected the Father to discipline the son severely, if not disown him. But this does not happen. So it came as a surprise, in Jesus’ parable, when the Father not only doesn't discipline the son, but he grants him his request.