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Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 - The test of being the least wasteful son of the man who had two

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

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All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."


So Jesus told them this parable:


"There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout 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 to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up 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 like one of your hired hands."' So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then 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 slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.


"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"


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This is the Gospel selection that will be read aloud by a priest on the fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. It will follow an Old Testament reading from Joshua, where we learn: “While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho.” That will precede a singing of Psalm 32, where David wrote: “Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; who must be fitted with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near you.” To follow that will be a selection from Second Corinthians, where Paul wrote: “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”


I have written about this parable multiple time. In 2016, I wrote this commentary. In 2020, I posted these observations; and, in 2021, I wrote this article. In 2020, I publish a book entitled Explaining the Parables: From the Gospel of Luke, and in that is an in-depth analysis of this reading selection. If you read all of these, I can assure your there is more to be seen here. That is why I will add more to what I have already seen before.


You will notice that the reading begins at verse one, but then (after reading the three ‘introductory’ verses) it skips forward to the middle of verse eleven. It is worthwhile to realize what takes place in those omitted verses; and, it is important to understand how everything in this chapter places focus on the duality that is set up, which is the "Pharisees and the scribes" pointing fingers at “the tax collectors and sinners.” When we read Jesus “told them this parable,” in reality he told them two scenarios that focus on that which had been lost, but then was found. The first was a man who owned a hundred sheep, but one was lost. He left the ninety-nine in the field to look for the one sheep lost; and, he rejoiced when he found it. Then, Jesus told of a woman who had ten coins. She lost one and searched high and low to find the one coin lost. When she found it, she rejoiced. Those ‘lost and found’ stories that occur all the time in real life (in some way or another) are the foundation that needs to be known when reading this parable.


Now, this parable is commonly referred to as The Parable of the Prodigal Son. There is a Wikipedia article entitled “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” The introduction of this parable has Jesus say, “There was a man who had two sons.” There are no Wikipedia publications about "The Parable of the Man with Two Sons." In the parable, Jesus tells how the one son “squandered his property in dissolute living.” The word “prodigal” means: “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant;” or, “characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure,” with it synonymous with “lavish, luxuriant, foolish spending.” What dawned on me – especially with the length of this parable (over 500 words) – is the title made me want to finish up writing about the meaning found herein, when the story reached the point that the prodigal son was found. A title placing sole focus on “the prodigal son” leaves the other son, basically, forgotten and out of the picture. However, the second son is why Jesus told this parable; because the prodigal son reflects on the “tax collectors and sinners,” while the second son reflects on the “Pharisees and scribes.”


Here, it become important to review two other lesson taught by Jesus – one story of reality and one a parable – which are called “The Pharisee and the Publican” [publican means tax collector] and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. In both of these accounts a focus is placed on “two,” which are exact parallels to “a man who had two sons.” These two examples are poorly explained by pulpit orators, as the pulpit orators are the ones who stand as models for the “Pharisees and scribes, the blowhard Pharisee, and the Goats.” To understand all of these as being the same story retold different ways, one has to realize the man had one hundred sheep, the woman had ten coins, and the man had two sons are instances where number – the hundred, the ten, and the two – means all are equal, with no difference. All the sheep were the same – as sheep. All of the coins were the same – as each was a drachma (most likely of silver). Thus, the two sons were equals, in the same way the Pharisees and scribes must be seen as Jews, just like the tax collectors and sinners.


I once read a sermon posted online by an Episcopal bishop, which was his orations on the lesson of the Pharisee and the Publican. Episcopal bishops might go from church to church (based on a schedule), where I imagine they ‘cherry pick’ when they will deliver an ‘easy’ sermon, which is one everyone will agree with. That is because some lessons have been taught so much (children’s Bible Stories books) that everyone knows what is going to be ‘the moral of the story,’ before the sermon is begun. I am sure bishops go to their office file drawer and pull out a sermon marked by the lectionary schedule, sorted by each week's reading selections, pulling out a sermon prepared back when the bishop was just a lowly priest; and, I imagine they brush that up and redeliver an old favorite to their adoring worshipers (got to love the ornate crosiers, fancy robes and high hats that bishops carry with them). Anyway, this sermon posted by the bishop placed sole focus on a moral that “God loves those who admit their faults; so, begging for forgiveness make you closer to heaven. The end.”


I sent the bishop (who I have never met or heard speak publicly) a comment on his blog, one that asked, “Do you not see how you are a reflection on the Pharisee, who was most likely preaching on the steps of the temple (not praying like the sinner tax collector)? Should the lesson of this story be one that says, “I stand before you as one who is so blessed by God, possessing a fancy walking stick, an ornate robe and a high hat that everyone knows I am holy … nothing like those sinners that I preach to, those who beg God for forgiveness so they will be closer to heaven”? His response was something like, “Well, everyone has their opinion; but I decided to focus the way I did.”


I imagine the Pharisees and scribes looked at one another after Jesus told this parable and said to one another, “Well, I’ve never seen anyone so wasteful be so humble that any father I know of would welcome him back.” They probably owned more sheep than they could count; so to lose one meant nothing to them. The same for silver drachmas. They had so much wealth that they would simply overcharge their next student of law to make up for any possible losses. The worst thing is they fully understood the attitude taken by the disgruntled son in this story (the elder).


When Jesus told his disciples on the hillside of Mount Olivet the parable of the sheep and goats, he said when the Son of Man returns in glory, the sheep will be set on his right, with the goats on his left.


When those two are separated, then Yahweh will come to judge them. The sheep would be deemed righteous, while the goats would be deemed sinners; but neither of the two would know what they did that was righteous, nor what they did as sinners. This says the sheep will have been repentant and then shepherded by the Son of Man (a Spiritual possession); so, without knowing it, they would have been led to righteousness. The goats, on the other hand, will have claimed to be owned by the Son of Man; but they would have done whatever they wanted to do, justifying everything they did by twisting the words of Law to suit their needs. They were blind to their sins; and, that is the ‘moral of all these stories.’ The man with one hundred sheep goes for the one lost as if it is his only sheep. The woman with ten coins goes for the one coin lost as if it were her only coin. Thus, the man welcomed home his lost son, as if it were his only son.


One thing that needs to be seen when we read, “The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me,'” is this is similar to the young, rich ruler who approached Jesus, asking “What shall I do so that I may inherit eternal life?” [Mark 10:17b] In Matthew’s version of this encounter, the young, rich ruler asked, “What good shall I do, that I might possess eternal life?” This means to ask for “the share of the property that will belong to me” is an approach that has one request proof of eternal life before death. When the young, rich ruler used the word “good,” Jesus asked him how he could use that word, when only Yahweh (“God”) “is good.” This becomes the philosophical beliefs of the Pharisees rising to the top of their consciousness.


The Pharisees (thus the scribes that supported their philosophy) believed they were God’s chosen people, which made them better than Gentiles (all who were not Jews or descended with favor from the Twelve Tribes). The Pharisees believed in the slimmest form of an afterlife, where Sheol was where souls of Jews went to mill about in a spiritual realm, until the prophesied Messiah would come and take them all to heaven. The Sadducees did not believe in any afterlife at all. Everything heavenly was then based on how many possessions one held in life; and, that wealth factor was what determined how much “good” a Jew did, with possessions then being the measure of God’s favor. The Pharisees saw wealth as God’s blessing in mortal life; but they still questioned what Sheol would be like, wondering whether or not if wealthy mortals would have a similar area of comfort in the spiritual afterlife.


All of the wealthy lawyers had the luxury of sitting back and waxing philosophically about whether or not there was an afterlife, because Jews had been blessed by Yahweh, simply by choosing them as His people. Everything was already theirs, so they saw no need to do anything differently. They were already living a heavenly lifestyle (compared to most others); so, eternal life could not be better than what they already possessed. That becomes a reflection of how the one son in this parable never became a focus of being disturbed, after the younger son asked for his share of the property before leaving. The younger son is seen as the lesser form of wealthy Jews, who are then the tax collectors. The ‘publicans’ are a necessary evil in Judaism, because they collected the taxes that kept the Gentile Romans off their back and let the Temple elite steal ‘legally’ from the ordinary Jews, getting rich off them and the taxes collected that got funneled back to the Temple (by the tax collectors paying tithes).


When we read, “The younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living,” no one sees the elder son as having stayed in his comfortable surroundings, enjoying more than was given to the younger son. Most likely, he was the reason Jesus told other parables about a landowner that was constantly trying to find good laborers to keep the land from being squandered. What is brought into focus here, by the younger son, is how everything material will eventually be “squandered” when death comes rolling into town.


When that time comes, it says to any son, “Time’s up. Drop what you have and come with me.” The point is nothing but a soul survives after death. The younger son’s tragic life is a lesson that taught his soul to repent, because his tragedy projected as his death. He lost everything he possessed in the world and there were no strangers, those in foreign lands (Gentiles) who cared that Jews thought they were the privileged class of humanity, chosen by God. Thus, the ‘moral of the younger son’s story’ says he realized being a slave to his father was better than being a hired hand for people who cared more about their possessions (swine) than human beings that were not related to them (blood or religious philosophy).


The elder son stayed put and learned nothing. He would be found out “in the field,” which can be seen as him living off the land that was owned by his father. That becomes metaphor for Israel, which (after giving a share to the younger son) was reduced to Galilee and Judea. This says the younger son reflects the Northern Kingdom, which included the Samaritans, whose land was squandered first, to the Assyrians (then the Persians, then the Greeks, and then the Romans). Only in the “field” that was still possessed by the Temple elite (who made the Romans play their game, bartering their influence that would keep the peace) could the elder son feel that he had not squandered anything. Everything in that “field” was possessed by the Roman lienholders, who would foreclose on that land in 66-70 A. D. (call it CE if you want). The elder son was living the lie that he possessed what the father possessed, simply because he had not left when the younger son did.


When we read that “the father said to his slaves” to rejoice, because “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” that becomes the same theme told in the lost sheep and the lost coin parables. Here, it is most important to realize that the elder son was just as lost as the younger son … lost in a mindset that placed value on material things … he just had not suffered a great loss, so still was not found.


When one researches what is written about this parable, one find scholars placing focus on the audacity of the younger son to expect any inheritance, much less before the father died. All the sorrow and anger is directed at the younger son, as if the elder son just got cheated out of half the father’s property value. No one takes the time to consider such a generous father would not only give the younger son half, but also give the elder son at least as much (if not some more). As such, the elder son still possessed the land and its value, while never finding the loss of property as projecting the certainly of death coming, when the possession of one’s body of flesh will be gone, never to return. The younger son learned that lesson and came home, willing to be a servant, owning nothing, seeking only forgiveness. The elder son had not learned this lesson; so, his future was in for a rude awakening when his death would be upon him.


The ”slaves” of the father, one of whom the elder son asked, “What is going on?” must be seen as angels. They serve the father, while keeping an eye on his sons. When the elder son was told that the father was giving the younger son his blessing (like Isaac giving Jacob his blessing, leaving Esau with only a curse), the elder son went into a fit of rage. This is where it is vital to see a “slave” to the father as an angel, in particular those guardian angels that watch after the children of Yahweh. Here, the angel (also called “elohim”) was one of those who leaned towards helping the devil, as a tester of God’s children. The “slave” was the wily serpent that hissed in the ear of the elder son, “Your brother is getting more than you.” The elder son's outrage made the father come to investigate (just as Yahweh came to Cain when his countenance was low [angry at his brother] and told him to get up off the ground, or evil will find its way into his brain).


When the elder son told his father, “'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends,” that was like the Pharisee standing on the top step of the Temple, thanking God for being better than sinners, "especially for not being like that tax collector over there.” The elder son could have said, “I have preached until I have been blue in the face about sinners. I have memorized every Law and I have slaved for you pointing out what laws everyone other than me has broken! You don’t even sacrifice a measly little goat and let me invite all my Pharisee friends over to let them know how much you love me.” That is a tantrum being thrown; and, just like Jesus said the tax collector (who begged God to forgive his sins that he did not know how to stop) was closer to the kingdom of God than was the blowhard Pharisee. The tax collector admitted he had faults, but the Pharisee never publicly or privately confessed his sins. He just blew hard and all his self-guilt went away. The reason the publican's guilt was so burdensome was the blowhard Pharisee was supposed to be telling sinners how not to sin; not just tell them what they already knew. The Pharisee should have beating his chest begging God to forgive him for not telling sinners how to stop sinning; rather than bragging about how much wealth he had.


This is where reading the father tell his elder son: “'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” That says the younger son had “died.” The younger son had entered into the house of the father (the heavenly kingdom), but his death was figurative, not literal. What “was dead” was the old way of seeing things as being more important than souls. When the father said his younger son “has come to life,” that means his soul had been awarded eternal life, taking his soul beyond the mortal limitations of the physical realm. To have been given “life” says the soul of the younger son had become a Yahweh elohim, which means he became an angel servant of Yahweh. He was able to enter the house of the father, whereas the elder son was still relegated to the realm of land allotted the children of the father. You cannot enter that house with sinful anything. The younger son had been Baptized with the Spirit of "life." The elder son still had to ritually cleanse with water, just to get a plate of some of the celebratory cooked fatted calf.


When the father told the elder son, “you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours,” that speaks of the bloodline that has the right to claim to be children of God, with that right upheld by religious adherence to the writings of Scripture. That can be seen as Yahweh saying to the elder, “Son, you ask for a young goat, when you are that young goat. You want it sacrificed for you, when the only sacrifice that matters is that of you … like your younger brother just did. If you make the same “death to life, lost to found” decision – from a deep, heartfelt realization of material loss – then you would be just as celebrated as your younger brother. However, as it stands now, he is closer to the kingdom of God than you are [having entered it as a wife of Yahweh, His servant]."


This parable is very important to grasp, because the lesson taught is experiencing abject failure leads those who have been taught the fundamentals of Christianity to humbly repent and offer to serve Yahweh as His slave (which means have a soul divinely married to Yahweh’s Spirit). The problem comes from there being few people who are willing to seek to go to find rock bottom and experience complete despair as a way to serve Yahweh. When Jesus told the young, rich man, "Know the Law and adhere to it … then sell what you possess and give good sermons to those poor in spirit. Once you do that, be reborn as me and raise your grapevine stake real high!" The young, rich man lowered his head sorrowfully, muttering as he walked away, "That pains my soul too much to even think about sacrificing that goat."


It is so much easier to sit in a pew (every Sunday, multiple times on Sunday, multiple times a week, or once every blue moon) and listen to some blowhard say, “All you have to do is believe in Jesus and know he died on a cross for your sins." Following those kind words with these: "Make all checks payable to (fill in the blank church or evangelist)." Anyone who has fallen to such depths of despair, who are willing to submit their souls fully to Yahweh, they are not allowed to have an official assembly or congregation to preach to. So, they have no platform available to them (no possessions of space, no possessions of clientele), where they can tell other lost souls how to sacrifice like he or she did … now! They cannot speak as someone else who died and was reborn, whose story is so other souls don’t have to experience abject failure like he or she did. Without permission papers [today that means wearing a paper mask too], those people would be arrested for trying to do that in an existing church building or organizational sanctuary. The Temple game today says play by seminary rules; so, anyone having not taken the time and not having gone into debt with a student loan (buying a diploma), to go some place where divinely married souls would then be taught the complete opposite of what it means to make an absolute sacrifice of one's soul to Yahweh.


If everyone were told to get out of the pew and serve Yahweh totally now – dying metaphorically, by giving up all lusts for material things – all the organizations of religion would go bankrupt, without paying customers. And, like the elder son going into a fit of rage … no church is going to stand by and let true Saints be welcomed!


As a Gospel selection to be read aloud on the fourth Sunday in Lent, when one’s soul should be tested for absolute commitment to Yahweh, as His servant, the lesson here has to be seen as understanding the churches are meant to be left. Everyone should become like the younger son and take what value one has been taught (a regular attendance in children’s church and a few good hardbound Children’s Bible Stories picture books in hand, as well as a family-given Holy Bible) and take that out into the world. Certainly, one will be taught very quickly that all the stuff fed to a child in church will quickly be dissolved in the real world. One has to be stripped of all dignity, as far as what has been taught about what being a Christian means. One needs to see just how much the world loves sinners; and, see just how much the world will trick the religious into losing their religion. With some sense of value given to Yahweh in one’s youth, one must know that talking to Yahweh (prayer) is how a lost sheep lets the Good Shepherd know one is willing to be found. The test of Lent is then finding faith from prayer … not the Pablum of belief, which quickly turns to mush and gets filled with maggots when more is taken than one can digest in a single day.


One needs to see how a soul is closer to the kingdom of God than is a body of flesh wearing all the fancy robes of false shepherding. The world forces human beings into letting the teachings of Jesus and all the Saints of the Holy Bible be devoured in the company of prostitutes, where souls are sold to the devil for some job that pays well, or some car that drives fast, or some social contact that sacrifices a goat in one’s honor. The test of Lent is to go out into the world as a model of Jesus, because one’s soul has truly married Yahweh’s Spirit and given birth to Jesus in one’s soul-flesh. That is one of those sheep things that leads to a life of righteousness, which that sheep is clueless about. The test is to let go of your self-ego and let the Christ mind lead you in ministry. The test is to experience the celebration of salvation, before one dies; and, that means leaving the pew behind, after it has served its purpose.

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