The parable of the lost son is the story of each of our lives during life and particularly during Lent. At the time a large crowd was following Jesus as he traveled from Galilee southward to Jerusalem. Some in the crowd believed what Jesus taught; others wanted to see him perform a great miracle. Pharisees traveled with the group. They watched Jesus’ behavior and listened to what he said, hoping to hear Jesus say something that contradicted Jewish law. Pharisees were the deadliest opponents of Jesus and his message. Here’s Jesus’ initial parable of the lost son:
“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. 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. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “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! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ 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. 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.’ 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. And bring the fattened calf and kill it and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15: 12-24 ESV).
To far, so good. Listening tax collectors and sinners, who identified with the younger son, rejoiced to hear that God forgave them unconditionally. Even the Pharisees and teachers of the law had no criticism of Jesus’ words at this point. They believed that repentant sinners could be restored to fellowship with God. If Jesus had stopped there, all would have been well. What Jesus said next offended and further alienated the Pharisees. Here are Jesus exact words as recorded by Luke:
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found'” (Luke 15:25-32 ESV).
When Jesus finished the parable, all who listened knew that the older brother was the Pharisees. As the older son looked down on the younger, Pharisees looked down on tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners.