Bible Reference: Luke 15:11-32
The parable of the lost son is one of the longer parables that Christ told. It was the last of three parables in which Jesus made the point that God searches for the lost, whether a sheep, coin, or person. Plant pods were mentioned, seemingly in passing, in the parable; however, the pods played a central role in incentivizing the lost son to return home to his father.
The context for the parable of the lost son is vital to understanding and interpreting it. 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. Some Pharisees traveled with the group. Carefully, they watched Jesus’s behavior and listened to what he said learn if he did or said anything that contradicted Jewish law.
At this particular time, tax collectors and other sinners gathered around Jesus. The Pharisees and teachers of the law started to mutter that Jesus welcomed sinners and even ate with them. In response Jesus told this parable:
There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father,
“Father, give me my share of the estate.”So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his 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. The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 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. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.
So far, so good!!! The parable sounded the same as that of the lost sheep and lost coin. 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’s 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:
Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him whatwas going on. “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 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. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” “My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” 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.”
When Jesus finished the parable, all who listened knew that the older brother was the Pharisees. Jesus’s parable exposed the Pharisees for what they were, i.e., hard-hearted, self-righteous prigs, who believed that their life style earned them special merit before Father God. In their opinion everything they did was right. God was happy to have them as believers and would welcome them into his kingdom. As the older son looked down on the younger, Pharisees looked down on tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. Pharisees had no awareness of their need for a savior. Their opinion of themselves couldn’t let them believe that Jesus’s considered them spiritually impoverished.
The Carob Tree
The pods that the unrepentant son longed to eat were carob pods, the fruit of the Ceratonia siliqua tree. Likely, carob trees were brought from Babylon by Jewish exiles who returned to Judea. In ancient Israel, carob trees were also called John’s bread and the locust tree. When John the Baptists lived in the wilderness, he ate locust and wild honey. Possibly, he ate carob pods rather than the locust insect. Carob trees grew wild throughout Palestine to include in desert areas. In Bible time pods were used to feed livestock. Carob trees produced pods even in time of drought and famine.
Reflection: How would you feel if your son or daughter said, “I wish you were dead?” This is what the younger son said to his father. Are you living as if you wished or declared that God is dead?
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/
Copyright: January 6, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth