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Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Lesson Focus: To be prepared for the coming of God’s Kingdom we must learn what it is like to love and give grace like our Heavenly Father.

Lesson Outcomes: Through this lesson, students should:

  1. Identify the nature of each of the three characters in this story.

  2. Understand that the nature of the Father is a radically free love that allows us to walk away and to return again with the assurance of full acceptance and a loving embrace.

  3. Understand that if we are to participate in God’s coming Kingdom we must live and act like the Father.

Catching up on the story: Jesus has been going around the countryside teaching, preaching and healing. He is continuing his journey toward the cross in Jerusalem. Along the way, we have discovered that his disciples are not yet ready to encounter what they will encounter in the events that lead up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. For the last few chapters Jesus has been actively engaged in helping to prepare his disciples for what lies ahead. His goal is that they be fully prepared for the coming of God’s Kingdom. As we journey with the disciples toward the cross, we too are being prepared for the coming of God’s Kingdom through the cross.

One of Jesus’ favorite ways of speaking is the parable. In this section, Jesus busts out three in a row. First, there is the parable of the lost sheep, then the parable of the lost coin, and finally, the parable of the prodigal son and his older brother. In most readings of this parable, the younger brother gets all the press. But, perhaps, the story is much more about the older brother’s response to the radical grace of his father than it is about the grace that the father has given to the younger son.

The Text: In our passage we find three characters. First, there is the younger son who is intent on doing his own thing. He would rather have his father’s wealth than a relationship with his father. He would rather have money and freedom than a living father. He squanders all he has only to realize that he has done a great wrong. There is the Father, who despite the insult brought about by his younger son, releases his son into the world. The Father gives his son radical freedom, freedom even to betray and reject him. This radical freedom, on the other hand, also allows the Father to welcome back his wayward son. The Father is a radically free, loving, giving and graceful person. Finally, there is the older son. The older son is the faithful one. He’s been at his father’s side, doing his father’s work for all of his life. Yet, when his brother returns he is resistant to offer the same grace as his father has. Let’s look at each of the characters.

The Younger Brother – The Free One While this story may be a little strange to us, not because it is unfamiliar to us, but because our culture and its rules about inheritance don’t work the same way for us today.

Just who is the younger brother? The younger brother is the one who values freedom over everything else. This desire for freedom is usually grounded in a sense of entitlement and self-fulfillment. What matters to the younger brother is not what other people think. No, what matters to him is freedom, the freedom to choose how to live and act and be. No one determines for him what he is going to be or do.

In the text, the younger brother cares nothing for his father, or for his older brother. By seeking his half of the inheritance before his father has died, the younger brother is, in fact, wishing that his father were dead. The young man’s priorities are driven by his own needs and wants and not by the family relationships that were and are so important. The younger brother uses his freedom to turn his back on the father who has no doubt loved him, nurtured him and provided for him all these years. Given all that he wants, the younger brother sets off for a life of living all on his own. Well, we know the story. That kind of free living is unsustainable. It just can’t last. It can’t last because when we use our freedom solely for our own good we tend to alienate everyone around us.

We all know people like this. We all know people who find themselves alone and in a lot of pain because their preoccupation with their own self-interest has driven everyone away. Often these people wonder why no one is there to support them when they are in trouble. It’s because they have never really cared for anyone else but themselves. So the younger brother, I believe still motivated by his own self-interest, decides to return home. His realization is that there are servants in his father’s home who are better fed than he is. Driven by hunger, and the basic needs of life, the young man returns home. Perhaps you know someone like him?

The Father – The Radically Free and Loving One While the younger brother is the Free One, the Father is the radically free and loving one. While the younger brother uses his freedom for his own advantage and self-interest, the father also exercises his own freedom. But it’s a freedom not grounded in self-care, it’s a freedom grounded in care for the other; it’s grounded in love.

See, when you truly love someone that means that you have to provide space for the other to love you back, or not to love you back. Love that doesn’t allow for choice isn’t love; it’s probably more closely related to coercion. Radical freedom, the freedom of the father, means that the father loves his son so much, with such true love, that he cannot hold the son against his wishes. So, in love, the father lets his son go.

In the text we don’t hear much from the father. We don’t hear how much he’s been hurt by his son’s request. We don’t hear of the anguish he must have endured all of those long and lonely nights when he wondered about the condition of the one he created and brought to life. The father’s actions speak louder than his words.

When the younger son is seen returning, the father hikes up his skirt and runs –a great indignity for a man in that culture– to meet his long lost son. Only a few words manage to escape the son’s mouth before the father begins issuing commands to his servants. Quick! Bring the very best clothes and a ring (a symbol of belonging in the family and economic resources) for my boy! Quick! Kill a fat calf and let us celebrate! The younger son doesn’t even have a chance to offer his full statement. The father, rather, embraces and reinstates the son without any question of where he has been or what he has done!

The very same radical freedom and love that allowed the father to let the son go now accepts the son back without question or condition. The son comes looking only for a bit of bread, but the father throws a party. The father is a radically free, loving, gracious, merciful, and giving person. Perhaps you know someone like him?

The Older Brother –The Faithful One, The Resentful One While the younger brother is the free one, and the father is the radically free and loving one, the older brother is the faithful one, the resentful one. The younger son