We started a new sermon series titled “The Prodigal Son” in our ministry recently and I have to be honest with you – this is the most excited I’ve been about a topic in a long time.
I’m excited to preach through it because it’s a story most people know and can relate to in some capacity, but at the same time is misunderstood and more nuanced than what first meets the eye.
Maybe we had a “prodigal” season of our own where we pursued the far off land or we knew someone who was the prodigal – the one who pursued the things of this world with reckless abandon.
No matter our association with the story, the narrative itself is marked with the divine pen strokes that stir our hearts with the cosmic themes of sin, selfishness, abandonment, shame, guilt, unconditional love, forgiveness, restoration, hope and redemption. All elements that paint the landscape of our shared pilgrimage.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable – Luke 15:1-3
We all know that context is key and you can not miss this piece of the story. To miss the context of the prodigal son, is to miss the entire thing.
Jesus is speaking with the tax collectors and sinners who were drawing near to him. The audience he’s telling this parable to is filled with the religious and the immoral, the law keepers and the law breakers, the clean and unclean.
This environment is the Vatican colliding with Folsom Prison, Utah clashing with Vegas, or Little House on the Prairie meets Game of Thrones.
The Pharisees and the scribes are grumbling because Jesus is hanging out with these “heathens”, doesn’t he know better?
Then Jesus did what he always did – he told a parable – three to be exact. We find ourselves in the third starting in verse 11.
The Set Up
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 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. – Luke 15:11-12
In every drama we are introduced to a set of characters. In this one there is a father who has two sons. The younger immediately takes center stage, but it’s interesting that the story of the “prodigal son” begins by telling us of a father who had two sons. Something to hold onto for later.
This younger son does the unthinkable in middle eastern culture. He demands his inheritance, which translates to something along the lines of – “I wish you were dead, I’m tired of being a part of this family and I’m out of here.”
It’s truly unthinkable, but the father’s response is even more unfathomable. He grants his request! He divides up the property between the two sons. The older would have gotten 2/3 and the younger 1/3.
What we told our students as we began this series is this statement – all sin starts with a lie.
This was true in the garden and it’s true today. All sin starts with a lie. In the garden, Adam and Eve were met with the question, “did God really say?” They were met with a distortion of the truth.
The younger son in this parable sees the far away land and thinks to himself – “it’s better out there and not good in here.” If we’re honest, that’s what most of us believe.
God, it would be better to trust in riches and go pursue it at all cost out there than have to depend on you to provide in here. God, I’m going dive into this relationship I shouldn’t be in out there than trust that you will be enough for me in here. God, I’m going to pursue all that I ever wanted out there because I don’t want to allow you to bring me contentment in here. God, I want to stay angry out there rather than have you empower me to forgive in here.
All sin starts with a lie because at the root of sin is the belief that there is something better than God. The truth of the matter is that there is nothing better than God; therefore, inherently every sin is a lie.
If we agree with the Psalmist, we understand that in God’s presence there is fullness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore. If we listen to the words of Jesus, if we abide in him – if we stay in here, in him – then we shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free.
Yet, we are a forgetful, short-sighted and impulsive people. We look at the far off land and all it’s enchanting wonder, then look at our current seemingly dull circumstances and say to ourselves – “it’s better out there and not good in here.”
All the while not hearing the hiss that echoes from the garden and suppressing the wisdom that is trying to cry out – all sin starts with a lie.