Once again, Jesus eating with sinners provokes an angry response from the Pharisees (v. 2). In Luke 15, Jesus explains why He has meals with sinners.
Jesus tells three parables about a lost sheep (vv. 4–7), a lost coin (vv. 8–10), and a lost son (vv. 11–32). They all make the same point: anyone who loses something valuable, upon finding it, will celebrate joyfully. The heavenly Father rejoices when sinners repent and turn back to Him, and Jesus reflects this in eating and drinking with them.
The third and climactic parable is emotionally powerful (vv. 11–32). The loss of a sheep or a coin is incomparable to the loss of a son. Therefore, the father’s joy is extravagant (vv. 22–24). However, this final parable has a surprising conclusion. With the introduction of the older brother, Jesus directly addresses the Pharisees who, like this brother, show their anger at the grace of the Father (vv. 25–32).
The older brother is furious that his father has welcomed his wicked son back (v. 28). “All these years I’ve been slaving for you,” he says. This revealing comment shows how little he understands the character of his father. The Old Testament law demanded that a rebellious son be stoned (Deuteronomy 21:18–21). The brother wanted judgment, not grace.
The father had two sons out of relationship with him. One is a prodigal son and the other a proud son, yet he treats both sons the same. He goes outside to each one and speaks words of grace. His final words are a rebuke to the older brother: “We had to celebrate and be glad” (v. 32). To complain about God’s grace is to stand against God’s plan to save sinners.
The parable does not tell us how the older brother responded, although it is surely significant that the brother who was outside the house at the beginning of the parable is now inside, and the one who spent years living there is now outside (v. 28). The first shall be last and the last, first (Luke 13:30).
The human heart is naturally disposed against grace. “That’s not fair!” we cry when someone receives something undeserved, particularly when we feel that we deserved it instead! That is why grace is so amazing.
What does the parable of the prodigal son (vv. 11–32) teach us about the character of true repentance?
Have there been times when you resented God’s graciousness to other people? How can we better reflect God’s grace in our dealings with people?