Luke 15:11-24

 40 Days of Witness
Luke 15:11-24
Great Commission Church
Intro: When we were in Kenya earlier this year, I experienced what it was like to be the minority in a majority culture that did not look like me. I was both amused and amazed when the smallest Kenyan children would spot us and immediately cease from whatever they were playing to sound the alarm to any native Kenyan within earshot: “Muzungu! Muzungu! Muzungu!” they would shout. Then, once all those near them were fully informed that a Muzungu was present, they went back to their fun and games. “Muzungu” means “white person” in Swahili. What amused and amazed me at the same time was how early the culture of suspicion and judgment was ingrained in those Kenyan children. They were taught sooner than they could even speak to warn their people if strangers appeared – specifically Muzungu strangers. It reminds me a honor/shame ceremony practiced by the Jews of Jesus’ day.

illus: What is qesasah? If a man sold his field to a Gentile or if a man married a woman who was not fitting for him because she was not a virgin, his relatives break a pot/jar or a barrel full of parched corn/nuts in the presence of children and declare “So-and-so is cut off from his inheritance!” or “So-and-so is lost to his family!” If the inheritance was returned to him, they would reverse course and declare “So-and-so has returned to his inheritance!” or if he divorced his shameful wife, “So-and-so has returned to his family!”

This formal act of cutting off and then restoring is specific to the background and context of the parable of the prodigal son.

The fact that a ceremony like qesasah exists perfectly illustrates honor/shame culture. It shows the solidarity of the extended family and the larger community.

Luke 15:11 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. 
Luke 15:12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. 

The prodigal requests and receives possession of his inheritance and permission to liquidate it. Both requests are unheard of in Eastern life and thought. Both mean the son is in a hurry for his father to die. 

Kenneth Bailey notes that for over 15 years he asked people from all walks of life in Morocco, Sudan, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, & India about what is implied if a son asked for his inheritance from his father while his father was still alive. 

“Has anyone ever made such a request in your village?”
“Could anyone ever make such a request?”
“If anyone ever did, what would happen?”
“His father would beat him, of course!”
“This request means – he wants his father to die!”

The father is expected to refuse and punish his son. Instead, in an unprecedented act of love, he grants the request.

“So he divided to them his livelihood.”

The older son, too, receives his share of the inheritance after his younger brother demands his from their father.

We expect the older brother to respond in two ways:

1.    He should loudly refuse his share of the estate in protest of his brother’s heartless demand.
2.    He should take up the traditional roll of third-party reconciler (breaks in relationships are always healed by a closely related third-party in the middle east).

His silence means refusal. 

His failure to say anything tells us that he has problems with both his brother and his father. All relationships among these men are strained or broken.  
Luke 15:13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 
Luke 15:14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 

The family estate is a significant part of a middle-easterner’s personal identity. And this young fool is pawning it off to the first cash buyer, even though sales of property ordinarily drag on for months in that part of the world.

The reason he hurried to get all his resources together was to get ahead of the scorn that would surely come from the community. 

As he goes from one prospective buyer of the estate to another, the disgust and loathing begin to mount. At every turn he is greeted with shock, horror, and rejection. He gets the cash and skates away. And what does he do with it?

“and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living” = “squandered his property in reckless living” or “squandered his estate with loose living” or “wasted his substance with riotous living” 

The prodigal son has no one to blame but himself. He was a loose spender. He lived a riotous life. He was reckless with resources he demanded prematurely. It was all his fault. He has lost the money from his family’s estate to the Gentiles.

Luke 15:15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 
Luke 15:16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.

The text tells us that he “glues” himself to a citizen of the far away country. This man is a Gentile and has no covenant with the God of the prodigal son’s family.

Remember, they are living in severe famine conditions. Anyone with food will have a throng of petitioners at his door every day.

The polite way a person in that culture gets rid of unwanted people who are just hanging around is to assign them a task he knows they will refuse.

How does a Gentile farmer get rid of a loitering Jewish lad? Easy enough. Task him with feeding the pigs. That should get send him on his way. Incredibly, this young Jewish guy heads for the hog pen and does what is unspeakable in his own culture and religion.

In this final act of recklessness, he all but renounces the faith of Abraham. He is herding unclean animals that belong to his new Gentile overlord. So hungry is he, that he would gladly eat with the swine. This is rock bottom. He has finally crashed. 

This ceremonially unclean job has put him in a place where it is impossible for him to ever keep the Sabbath. He can no longer practice Judaism. He has broken covenant with everyone who ever loved him and with his God. Now what?

Soon, the village will discover that he lost the money to the Gentiles. At that time, they will break the jar in the street and cut him off.

The prodigal son has broken relationships with his father, his older brother, and now in a severe way with the community at large.

Hurdle to clear:    His solution:
his father     ???
his older brother    ???
his community    ???

“no one gave him anything” = all charity had run out. He could either move toward home or starve in a foreign land.

Luke 15:17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 
Luke 15:18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 
Luke 15:19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’

What sin prompted his potential confession? It is the loss of family money to the Gentiles. He has a moral responsibility to take his share of the estate and build on it, enhancing the family name. The worst thing would be to waste it among unbelievers.
To properly understand the parable, it is crucial to note that he thinks if he had not lost the money, he would not have sinned. 

In vv.17-19, he is motivated by hunger (not shame) and he repents for having lost the money (not having despised his family).

We know this by his contrived solution to his problems. He makes a plan to save face (most important in honor/shame cultures). 

“Make me like one of your hired servants.”

In 1st-century Jewish estates, there were three levels of servants:
1.    Bondservants (douloi) – slaves who lived at the estate and were almost part of the family
2.    Slaves of a lower class (paides) – subordinate to the bondservants 
3.    Hired servants (misthioi) – lived outside the estate; day laborer; free man, no personal interests in the affairs of the master

As a hired servant, the prodigal son would be a free man with his own income living independently in the village. He would have a lower social status than his father and brother. He can maintain his independence and his pride. 

Since he would live off the premises, he would also not be under his brother’s authority (who now rules the estate).

He would not have to eat his brother’s bread. He would not have to follow His brother’s rules. He will not have to face his brother’s resentment. He can leave after work each day.

He could potentially pay back to the father what he lost in the far country. He wants to make up for what he lost. 

In short, his plan is to save himself. He wants no grace.

The rabbis taught that repentance was basically a good work that man did to earn God’s favor. At times, man needed God’s help. God had to come part of the way and man came the rest of the way. This idea also factored into the lost son’s solution. 

The prodigal’s final problem is his relationship with the village. The way he left, disrespecting, and abandoning his father, wishing for his death, brought the most severe shame possible from the community. Now he has lost the money to the Gentiles.

He can fully expect the village to cut him off through a qesasah ceremony the moment they recognize him. 

His entry into the village will be humiliating and ruthless as all the pent-up hostilities from the community explode like an angry volcano upon him. 

For this problem, he has no apparent solution. He will simply have to face them, and hope he survives.

Hurdle to clear:    His solution:
his father    “make me like one of your hired servants”

I will work off what I owe to you and lost in your name.
his older brother    “make me like one of your hired servants”

I will pack back what I lost to our father, and we won’t need to have a relationship.
his community    ???

Luke 15:20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 
Luke 15:21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
Luke 15:22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 
Luke 15:23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry;

Ben Sirach – Jewish scribe/sage (wrote 180 year before Christ) mentions four things that terrify him. Two of them are “slander by a whole town” and “the gathering of a mob.”

The prodigal son returns to face both. As soon as he reaches the edge of the village and is recognized, a crowd will form. They will sing taunting songs about him. They will heap insults on him for the way he treated his father. Some will even rough him up.

The father is fully aware of how his son will be treated if he returns defeated and humiliated to the community he has rejected. 

What the father does in this homecoming scene is unprecedented, mystifying, and noteworthy. Superlatives fail to describe this love. 

He takes up a series of dramatic actions that are calculated to do two things: (1) protect the son from the hostility of the village (2) restore him to fellowship within the community.

The father: runs to  kisses  restores  celebrates his son.

illus: What does it mean to run the gauntlet? To run the gauntlet means to take part in a form of corporal punishment in which the party judged guilty is forced to run between two rows of soldiers, who strike out and attack them with sticks or other weapons.

He runs the gauntlet of the village so that his son won’t have to. He does so because he “had compassion” on this sinful young man.

A nobleman from the middle east wore flowing robes to note his status in the community. He never runs anywhere. To do so would be humiliating to the man himself and to the village. “Great men never run in public” (Aristotle).

The father races to the gathering crowd before they can begin their abuse of his renegade son. He belittles himself to make it in time.

In stunned disbelief, the son enters the village to find that he is now under the protective care of his father’s gracious love. 

Rather than experiencing the ruthless hostility he deserves and expects from the crowd, the son witnesses a visible demonstration of lovingkindness from the very person he hurt the most. The father says nothing at first because his love is too profound for words.
When the father reaches his son, he kisses him on the neck. It’s a preemptive strike! He prevents his son from bowing to kiss his hand or his feet the way a servant would greet him.

Every action of the father says, “I forgive you. Let’s reconcile. Be my son again. I cancel all debts you owe me.”

The son responds with only a portion of the speech he prepared. What does he leave out? “Make me like one of your hired servants.” To receive his place in the family back, the prodigal must humble himself. He abandons his own solution. It’s worthless.

Repentance turns out to be the capacity to forego pride and receive grace. Now he knows he cannot offer any redeemable solution to their broken relationship. “I am unworthy” is the only appropriate response.

Lastly, the father restores his son to specific places of honor in the household. 

Item    Meaning    Purpose
best robe    restored to full status as a son    acceptance from the village
ring     fully entrusted with the household resources    son can transact business in the community
sandals    he has the true authority as a son    clarify status to the work staff
fattened calf    all the village invited to the celebration    reconcile the son to the whole community

Luke 15:24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.

Application: Surrender to free grace.