Sermon: The Lord’s Lost and Found, Part 2:A Father’s Extravagant Love
Scripture: Luke 15.11-24; Zechariah 3.1-7
Preacher: Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley
Location: First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date: September 22, 2019
Last week, we began studying Luke 15 and looked at three parables Jesus shared about something getting lost and then found: A sheep, a coin, and a son. We took time to note how the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin are really stories more about the shepherd than the sheep and the relentless woman as opposed to the lost coin. The shepherd reminds us that God will sacrifice everything for the lost one and the woman reminds us that God is so much larger, textured, and complex than we can ever imagine. Today we turn our attention to the third parable in Luke 15. Turn in your Bible to Luke 15:11-24 and let’s dig into the parable of the extravagant father.
11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate
This is one of the most well-known parables in scripture. For those familiar with it, we refer to it as the parable of the prodigal son about a young man who squanders his livelihood and who finally comes to his senses and returns home. Though this is a part of the Story, it is only one reading of the Story. There are two other main characters in this part of Luke 15 which are the father and the grumpy older brother. Today we will look at the parable from the father’s point of view and next week, we will look at the grumpy older brother’s and see what this story says to us today.
The story immediately begins with the youngest ‘troubled child’ asking for his inheritance. Straight away the parable opens with a shock we miss today but would not have been missed by Jesus’ audience. The boy’s demand was about as disrespectful and pretentious as it could be and would have been a slap in the face to his father; we don’t see it today but back then, his request was a huge insult.
“Give me my inheritance.” The statement is scandalous for a couple of reasons. First, daddy’s not dead yet. Inheritances are distributed upon the death of the patriarch. The father may tell his children, “Now when I’m gone, you will have this and your sister will have that” but the distribution of assets occurred when daddy died. Second, the boy’s demands show that he feels he has some sense of entitlement to that which he has not earned himself; in other words, he is spoiled. And third, by asking for his inheritance, he was violating family protocol and tradition by usurping the elder brother’s birth rite. The elder son always gets his inheritance first. The pretentious, self-entitled spoiled one demonstrates he does not care for his dad and neither does he care for his older brother. So here is insult number one.
Insult number two is that by demanding his inheritance, he, in essence, is declaring to his dad, “You’re dead to me.”
Insult number three is declared by the younger boy because by demanding his inheritance, he is communicating to the family, to his father, that he can manage his own life better than his current family and father does. We need to realize the younger son’s actions represent his forsaking his family of origin; it’s the youngest boy’s move to remove himself from his family. So, not only is the father ‘dead to him’ but so, too, is his entire family. What’s the result? The boy undergoes a self-imposed exile but sadly, does not see it as such. And this is where the story gets really interesting.
Note again verse 20:
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
This verse is packed with multiple layers of meaning. Like a layered ice-cream cake where there is a layer of vanilla cake on top, once you cut into it you discover the other layers of thick, chocolate ice cream.
One layered reading of this verse is that while the son was coming home, his daddy saw him coming and ran to greet him. Well, the word we translate as ‘see’ not only means to see with one’s eyes but it also connotes seeing someone or something with your heart, soul and inner senses. The father intuits something in his heart is not quite right. Many parents report of this intuition about their kids…we just know deep down when somethings not right.
Another word layered with a double meaning is the statement we read as the father saw the boy from “a long way off.” It not only means a distance where we can make something out with our eyes, but the distance can also be interpreted as one that’s impossible to broach. Being ‘far away’ also is a metaphor pointing to a person’s spiritual darkness.
But then Luke goes and adds a third double-entendre in verse 20. When the father runs and embraces his son, he literally grabs him around the throat. In English we use the term “neck” but the ancient language is more specific. Luke uses the word we get our English word trachea – the part of the throat that lets us breathe. It’s one thing to hug a neck; it’s another to have one’s neck squeezed so tight that it causes the other person to pass out because he or she can’t breathe. So let’s put all these double-entendres together to hear a deeper meaning.
On one hand, there is the boy wallowing in the pig’s slop and excrement. A pig – an unclean animal in the eyes of any good Jew – is one of the animals that is considered to cause one’s spiritual purity to be tarnished. This would mean the boy is not only exiled from his family but he is also at the point of being excluded from his Jewish community. The boy knows he is three-times removed from home: From his daddy, from his family, from his spiritual and social community. What was he to do but to begin back home and become an outcast farmhand on his dad’s land?
On the other hand, however, we see in our layered meaning of verse 20 that his daddy knew in his gut that his youngest son was literally far away in a dark exiled place. Daddy knew his son was clouded with spiritual darkness and that his son didn’t know what to do. And even though his son was far away, Dad leaves the house and goes to fetch his son while the son was still exiled in a spiritual Mordor of darkness and separation. He finally meets his boy and the father throws himself at him. From the son’s perspective, the father flinging himself on the boy could’ve been interpreted as the father attacking the boy according to the Greek wording. But daddy’s got a surprise! He grabs his son around the neck and squeezes him tightly, not to cause him peril or out of retribution but because He “attacks” his boy with reckless, lavish love.
Instead of stripping and beating the boy, the father does the unexpected reverse. He calls for the servants to bring a robe, a signet ring, and sandals. A robe, a new covering, is his father’s way of making his son feel respected and approachable again. It’s a way of changing his son’s status as a homeless person to a person who is accepted in their culture and tribe. A signet ring is then put on his finger – a ring that in antiquity was a way to visibly demonstrate and symbolize family connection. And then there are the sandals. Sandals are a sign of social stability that indicates he is now of higher standing and can enjoy the freedom of moving about without pain or discomfort.
A robe, a ring, and a pair of sandals. Taken together, this was the father’s way of reinstating the younger boy back into the family. No longer was he an outsider but the boy is now an insider. No longer seen as a social outcast, the son is made clean by the father’s demonstration of grace. No longer is the boy in fear but he is caught up in his daddy’s unbridled joy!
Beloved, how do you relate with this Story? Have you noticed the father’s extravagant love? Or, are you wallowing in the pig slop of guilt, shame, and brokenness? The Good news is like a woman feverishly looking for a lost coin, God is like a father who runs up to greet us and nearly hugs us to death out of joy. This is the story of the extravagant father. Amen.
Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33303
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 See Acts 2.39, Ephesians 2.13, 17.