Jesus’ Life and Ministry
The Story of a Lost Son
THE Pharisees have criticized Jesus for keeping company with known sinners, and in answer he has just finished relating illustrations about regaining a lost sheep and a lost drachma coin. He continues now with another illustration, this one about a loving father and his treatment of his two sons, each of whom has serious faults.
First, there is the younger son, the principal character of the illustration. He collects his inheritance, which is unhesitatingly given to him by his father. He then leaves home and becomes involved in a very immoral way of life. But listen as Jesus tells the story, and see if you can determine who the characters are meant to represent.
“A certain man,” Jesus begins, “had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the part of the property that falls to my share.’ Then [the father] divided his means of living to them.” What does this younger one do with what he receives?
“Later,” Jesus explains, “after not many days, the younger son gathered all things together and traveled abroad into a distant country, and there squandered his property by living a debauched life.” The fact is, he spends his money living with prostitutes. Afterward hard times come, as Jesus goes on to relate:
“When he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred throughout that country, and he started to be in need. He even went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to herd swine. And he used to desire to be filled with the carob pods which the swine were eating, and no one would give him anything.”
How degrading to be forced to take up swineherding, since these animals were unclean according to the Law! But what pained the son the most was the gnawing hunger that even caused him to desire the food that was fed to the pigs. Because of his terrible calamity, Jesus said, “he came to his senses.”
Continuing his story, Jesus explains: “He said [to himself], ‘How many hired men of my father are abounding with bread, while I am perishing here from famine! I will rise and journey to my father and say to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Make me as one of your hired men.”’ So he rose and went to his father.”
Here is something to consider: If his father had turned on him and angrily shouted at him when he left home, the son would not likely have been so single-minded as to what he should do. He may have decided to return and try to find work elsewhere in his home country so he would not have to face up to his father. However, no such thought entered his mind. Home was where he wanted to be!
Clearly, the father in Jesus’ illustration represents our loving, merciful heavenly Father, Jehovah God. And you perhaps also recognize that the lost, or prodigal, son represents known sinners. The Pharisees, to whom Jesus is speaking, have previously criticized Jesus for eating with these very ones.
But whom does the elder son represent? And what application does Jesus’ illustration have in our 20th century? Our following issue of this magazine will answer these questions when it considers the rest of Jesus’ story about the lost son who was found. Luke 15:11-20, 30; Leviticus 11:7, 8.
◆ To whom does Jesus tell this illustration, or story, and why?
◆ Who is the principal character in the story, and what happens to him?
◆ Whom do the father and the younger son represent?
◆ What information can we anticipate in the next issue of this magazine?