We may not normally associate the parable of the prodigal son with the unleavened bread season. The story, which is found in only one gospel account (Luke 15), appears to be a simple story of redemption. After a son wastes his inheritance and finds himself in a hopeless, oppressive situation, he comes to himself, returns to his father, and enjoys a joyous reception. The parable acquired its name from the one son who fell into extravagant and reckless, or “prodigal”, living. There are important lessons to be learned when we view the parable from a certain perspective.
Parables can be viewed from different perspectives, somewhat like facets in a diamond. A different viewpoint will emphasize different aspects of the same story. If we view the parable from only one direction, or viewpoint, we can miss some lessons that God intends for us to learn. So, it might be beneficial to take time to examine the parable of the prodigal son from the perspective of the feast of unleavened bread.
The parable of the prodigal son is found in Luke 15:11-32 and is a word picture, crafted by Jesus Christ, in response to comments made by the Pharisees and scribes in verse 1. Jesus set the stage in verses 3-9, describing the joy of someone finding something that was lost. The point of the whole chapter is stated in verse 10, “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)
The parable of the prodigal son is really a story explaining verse 10. It is a wonderful and encouraging story of a father finding what was lost and rejoicing over the return of his son. The main theme of the parable deals more with the father than the son, although we may often view the parable from perspective of the son.
In this parable, we can see a progression of events that fit well within this holy day season:
• The son was lost and separated from his father
• He was in a “far country” and forced into servitude
• He “comes to himself” (the repentance process)
• He returns to his father (reconciliation)
• He approaches his father in a sincere and humble frame of mind (unleavened attitude)
• His father rejoices at his return, along with his servants.
These are all familiar themes for the spring holy day season. God began by calling us and delivering us from the bondage of this world. Our “coming to ourselves” and the subsequent reconciliation to God is something that we picture in the Passover service. The days of unleavened bread picture our change in mind and our approaching God in humility, sincerity, and truth. This is the process that we all go through as we change our lives and return to God.
What we sometimes do not focus on as often is God’s response to our return. With that in mind, let’s focus on verses 20 – 24 of Luke 15 and consider the other side of the relationship – the father’s joy at the return of his son.
“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. 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.’ 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. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15: 20 – 24)
It is readily apparent that the father in the story is a representation of our Father in heaven. There is a direct correlation to our Father’s response when we repent and return to Him. What can we learn from these verses that should give us great encouragement during the spring holy day season?
The father’s response shows the nature of God’s love for us
The response was emotional. It says that the father “had compassion” and “ran” to his son. Compassion is an emotional expression of mercy and a forgiveness of past transgressions, showing how God deals with us when we repent and return to Him. The father’s love was expressed by an eagerness and intense desire to be reunited with his son. He didn’t wait for his son to come to him, but ran to him, fell on his neck and kissed him. This was an emotional reunion for both the father and the son. No doubt, many tears of joy were shed.
Sometimes we may not view God in this fashion. Because of the emotional and philosophical baggage we carry with us, we may view God as a stern task master with out feelings, or if he has feelings, they are negative. Because we are human, we tend to view God in human terms. We can fall into the trap of viewing God from the human, mythological viewpoint of an angry, temperamental being, tossing lightning bolts at the slightest provocation.
Jesus Christ carefully constructed this parable to show our Father’s kind and merciful nature and how He responds when we return to Him in a humble, repentant state of mind. It also conveys God’s love for us and shows that our Father in heaven is close, personal, and joyful at our return.
The father never once made mention of the son’s sins
The son probably had a long list, but the father chose not to remember them. Our Father, likewise, removes our sins “as far as east is from the west”. Once forgiven, they are no longer an issue.
While the son had to first repent and seek forgiveness from his father, the father’s response was not conditioned on the son’s past behavior. It was an example of justification, a wholly outgoing action, demonstrating a God-plane love. There was no getting even, no quid pro quo, no making the son “pay” for his mistakes, and so on. The son was lost and now he was found.
When it comes to our sins, we have a better memory than God. We have a hard time forgetting and forgiving ourselves for sins that God has already forgiven and forgotten. This holy day season is a time to forget the sins that God has forgiven and press forward to our high calling, running our race with patience.
The son’s return was a major event
Everything stopped. The son was clothed with the best and the best food was prepared for this joyous occasion. No expense was spared and no corners were cut – only the best for the son who returned.
This was not a footnote to the story. The father did not say, “Oh, by the way, my son came back. See if you can find him some leftovers”. Everyone “made merry” and rejoiced and everyone took part in the celebration.
This is also a picture of a very close family sharing the joy of the return of the son, representing what occurs in heaven with the angels. We understand that God is a family, but the whole hosts of heaven are a Godly community, in one accord and of one mind. They rejoice together “over every sinner who repents”.
In this holy day season we rightly focus on the instructions to repent, return to God, and become a new being by partaking of the unleavened bread from above. This is our responsibility. But it should encourage and strengthen our faith to remember how God our Father responds when we do these things.
Our Father has compassion and runs to us, falls on our neck and kisses us. He gives us an abundant entrance to His family and rejoices with the angels at our return.
For we were dead and are alive again, lost and are found.
By Bill Welch