The parable of the lost son eating carob tree husks is in Luke 15:11-32.
Christ told the parable of the lost, or prodigal, son in response to the Pharisees and teachers of the law criticizing him for welcoming and eating with sinners. This parable was one of three parables that made the point that God searches for the lost, whether a lost sheep, coin, or person. The parable of the prodigal son goes like this:
A father had two sons. The younger asked his father for his inheritance. After receiving his share of the estate, the young man went into another country and squandered the money on wild living. After his money was spent, there was a severe famine in the entire country. With no money, the young man hired himself out to a citizen who sent him to the fields to feed pigs. The young man longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating; but no one gave him anything to eat.
Sometime later the young man came to his senses and determined to go home to his father. He planned to tell his father that he no longer deserved to be called a son; he would gladly be treated like a hired man.
From a far distance, the father saw his son returning home. He ran to his son and hugged and kissed him. The son confessed to his father that he sinned and was no longer worthy to be called a son. Before the son could asked his father to treat him like a hired hand, the father called servants to bring a robe, a ring for his son’s hand, and sandals for his feet. The father ordered a feast to celebrate the younger son’s return.
During the celebration, the older son came home from working in the field. He learned his younger brother returned home and his father ordered a celebration. The older son became angry and would not enter the house. When his father came out to him, the older son complained that he served his father year after year, never disobeying him; however, his father never gave him an animal to hold a celebration with his friends. Yet, the younger son who demanded then squandered his inheritance came home and is greeted with a party.
The father acknowledged the older son’s value saying you are always with me and everything I have is yours. At the same time, the father averred that they must celebrate the younger son’s return because “this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Matthew 15:32).
The pods that the younger son longed to eat were carob pods, the fruit of the Ceratonia siliqua. Common names are carob tree, St. John’s bread, locust tree, and Egyptian fig. Although the carob tree grows to 55 feet in the United States, in Israel carob trees are smaller. After pollination, long (up to 12 inches by 1 inch) pods develop. Pods are filled with soft brown pulp and 10-13 flat, hard seeds. In May on Kibbutz Ketura in the southern Negev Desert, I gathered and ate a ripe carob pod. It tasted sweet and was fibrous. Carob pods are grounded into flour and used to make a cocoa (chocolate) substitute.
The carob plant can be associated with several concepts. The genus name of the carob tree, Ceratonia, is comes from the Greek word keras (κερας) meaning “horn,” the shape of the carob pod. Called poor man’s bread, carob pods and flour are also associated with humility. Certainly both horn and humility make sense in the parable of the lost son; however, so does “substitute.”
As a noun substitute means a person or thing that takes the place or function of another. Used as a verb, substitute means to exchange, switch, and replace with.
Substitute is what the younger son did in this parable. He substituted his life as a valued son for a short life of flagrant living followed by feeding pigs. He replaced eating the best foods money could buy with longing to have carob pods to eat. He planned to ask his father to substitute life as a hired hand for life as a younger son. From a Kingdom of God perspective, Christ substituted his perfection for our sin. Christ was the perfect substitute for each of us, who would be lost and starving without him.
Have you thought about what you are substituting in your life for time with God? Is it your kids, spouse, career, or even activities at church. I look at celebrities and pundits — many have no discernible relationship with God. They are substituting glory here on earth for the glory of spending time with God in heaven.
Reflection. Do you want the real thing or are you content with substitutes in your life?
I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/
September 2, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth