Title: Parables Bible Study 12: The Prodigal Son
Subject: Repentance and Joy in Heaven
Age: 13+ years
Location: Luke 15:11-32
Handout for note taking: Bible Study Worksheet
Begin the bible study with a prayer. Read the passage, and then allow time for quiet reflection. Share the following notes on the parable.
This reading forms the second lesson within the Triodion period preceding Great and Holy Lent. The Publican and the Pharisee is followed by this parable of the Prodigal Son, and the period ends with the reading of the Last Judgment. Once again we must note the placement of this reading and in noting it, consider why it was placed where it was. To some degree, this parable gives us a summary of the entire message of the Gospel. We could also say that in this one parable we have the outline for the entire message of the Divine human drama. The parable helps us to understand humanity's origin and the necessity for a relationship. A relationship that best resembles a father and his son, the parable also tells us about the son's rejection of his father's house, the son's wandering and distance, his coming to his senses, and his return, and complete restitution to son-ship by the father.
We have within this parable a central theme to the Christian message: when we leave God, regardless of how distant we travel away from Him, if we return with a penitent heart, He will accept us. This is certainly an important message as we enter Lent. Against the feelings of estrangement that come from our having traveled "far" from God, and the guilt associated with a life that has squandered our inheritance, this Gospel passage reminds us that Lent is a time to return to God who eagerly waits for us and even looks into the distance for our return. Further it instructs us, it reminds us that our return does not have any conditions attached to it, except a penitent heart.
In the parable of the Prodigal Son we may have the single most important and therefore the most well known parable. In order to make the story our own, it is crucial to view this parable from the perspective of the wayward son. We must see our own sin and sinfulness. The squandered inheritance implies a misunderstanding of the gift's true value and purpose, and it shows our disrespect and therefore rejection of the One who gave them to us. We must make the decision to return. The spirit in which we return is also important.
Verses 11 through 13 are about estrangement and a desire for independence. The son wants his inheritance and wants to leave home. Ironically, he does not connect his inheritance and the "independence" it provides him with the origin of it: his father.
He is self-centered with a "give me mine" mentality. The father's work and careful saving is forgotten and definitely underappreciated. We have a failure to see what we have as a gift in going to a far country and participating in riotous living. We are made in God's image and with free will what stands in our way? We can travel far, spiritually speaking, from God and His Church. Often we fill in that space with cheap substitutes.
We read of the son's return in verses 14-20. The inheritance has been squandered; instead of using it to build a life it has been wasted. And so a great famine arose. What does this great famine mean? It is the famine of his soul. There is nothing inside to sustain his spiritual well being, his spiritual life.
He attaches himself to a citizen of that country. What a striking contrast we have between this "father" and the son's true father. One lovingly and freely provides and the other sends him to take care of swine. He has hit bottom. It is the fall relived. Like our first parents, Adam and Eve, the attempt to live without God, to find meaning and purpose in life without God, ends in disaster.
The path towards the Kingdom begins with repentance! "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee." Romans 10.10: "For with the hear one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." And Proverbs, 18.17 (original translation, Septuagint), "A righteous man accuses himself at the beginning of his speech." It can not be overstated that the path towards salvation begins with repentance. Yet, it runs deep; notice that the son's repentance is so complete that he no longer sees himself worthy of being called a son. We can say that for the son true humility has set in and taken hold. As a result of this deep repentance, he no longer sees his inheritance as something deserved, owed to him, etc. Rather, for him once the inheritance has been lost, it is no longer something he owns or he can ask for; he has given up ownership. The key is that he no longer sees what he has as his, but truly it is another's. In this state and only in this state, can one truly receive the inheritance of the Kingdom, for it can only be understood as a gift.
See Psalm 84.10. "For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness."
In Luke 15, verses 18 and 20, we hear respectively, "I will arise. And he arose." So low had he gotten that the first thing he had to do, the first step he had to take, was to get up from the depths of his sin, so low had he fallen. In Ephesians 5.14 we read, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light."
Verses 20 through 24 of this parable are of restoration. From a far distance, the father is eagerly awaiting and searching for the son's return, and he runs to meet him and falls upon him, kissing him. The son says, "I have sinned, I am not worthy." This is confession and repentance, humility. The symbolism of the robe is that our spiritual nakedness is covered and righteousness is restored, see Isaiah 61.10. The ring is a sign of true son-ship, of family identity. The shoes symbolize that we are to walk in and according to the Gospel. Ephesians 6.15 says, "and having shod our feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace." Having a feast and eating represents not only nourishment, but also complete restoration is the nature of God's love, see Hebrews 8.12. "'For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.'"
Self-righteousness is the theme of verses 28 and 29. Following a human notion of justice the second son does not accept his brother's repentance. His actions, which are pharisaic, are met by the same unconditional love of the father.
- How do we view our Heavenly Father, do we see Him as the One who loves us unconditionally?
- Have we understood God's unconditional love for us so completely that we not only accept it but manifest this love in our lives?
- Has the Father's love for us cast out all fear? 1 John 4.17-19
- Do we see the son's actions as our own?
- Have we acted like the second son, condemned in our hearts those outside and those who have only recently returned?
At this time, read the passages once more and allow time for quiet reflection. If there is time, you may have a discussion about these parables.
End the bible study with a prayer.
Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas
Click the link to return to the Parables Bible Study page or continue to the next Parables Bible Study session: The Unrighteous Steward.