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The Prodigal Son: The Prodigal Who Stayed at Home (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)

By Kenneth L. Gibble
Luke 15: That was the trouble with Jesus; He just didn't know where to draw the line between making His point and meddling. It was one thing to say He had come to save sinners, but did He have to demonstrate it by sitting down to eat meals with them?

Jesus had some critical things to say about the chief priests and the elders—OK—but when He said to them, "I tell you: the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you"...well, that was pushing it a bit, don't you think? It's no wonder He kept getting into hot water.

Then there was that story He told. You know the one. People call it the story of the prodigal son. Just a little sidelight here. The word prodigal appears nowhere in the story. I suppose the word prodigal was tacked on by someone who had a dictionary or a thesaurus and discovered that it means "a wasteful person, a spendthrift." Prodigal also has a second meaning, similar to the first. This second definition is "profuse in giving, exceedingly abundant."

I know all this because I looked up the word prodigal as I was preparing this sermon. Before I looked it up, I thought a prodigal was someone who leaves home in order to lose himself in a spree of high living, carousing and debauchery, or to use the more conventional phrase, wine, women and song. I guess that was just wishful thinking on my part.

What I thought the word prodigal meant is a whole lot more colorful than the real definition, more romantic somehow. Maybe it goes back to a secret yen I had as a young fellow to do some of that high living for myself but never being quite able to figure out how to do it...one of the drawbacks, I suppose, of growing up in a family that took its Christianity very seriously.

Anyway, "The Prodigal Son" is the title given to the story that Jesus told. To whom did He tell it? That's a very important question, one often overlooked when people read the story. So let's find out.

The Luke 15 begins with these words:

"Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to Him, and the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, 'This Man receives sinners and eats with them.' So He told them this parable..."

Then follows the parable of the lost sheep, followed immediately by the parable of the lost coin, which in turn is followed immediately by the parable we are considering.

The Good News Bible gives it the title of "The Lost Son," which fits very nicely into the sequence: lost sheep, lost coin, lost son. In fact, "The Lost Son" is probably a better title than "The Prodigal Son" because most people don't know what prodigal means.

What I want to call to your attention is the audience to whom Jesus addressed this story. He directed it to the Pharisees and the scribes, representatives of the religious establishment of that time. They were interpreters of the Jewish law; they had the important responsibility of making judgments about what was right and wrong human behavior.

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