God who searches for us and brings us back home – Luke 15:1-32

September 23, 2020by Wanjiku J. Kiarie0


This paper was first written for and presented as a class assignment for my graduate degree on an exegesis course on the Gospel according to St. Luke.



The passage under exegesis Luke 15:1-32 is what I would call a ‘classical’ parable. It is memorable and has been repeatedly visualised in drawing and drama throughout the ages. In Sunday School it was one of my favourite dramas and I am not sure why, but I always ended up getting the character of the prodigal son. Introducing Luke, Achtemeir et al. agree with me by noting that the Gospel of Luke “. . .contains some of the most influential and best remembered of all the parables, including the prodigal son and the Good Samaritan.” (Achtemeier 2001, 149) Looking at the bigger picture, how this passage fits into Luke’s narrative, I feel that it is of great significance. This passage details an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees and their company regarding ‘who is welcome into the Kingdom of God?’ Jesus has gone all inclusive, dining, and welcoming ‘sinners and tax collectors’ (15:1) and the Pharisees and their company are not amused. This passage is right in the heart of ch.5-19 where Luke details the growing conflict that has Jesus on one side and the whole company of the religious elite on the other and yes it is about, ‘who is welcome into the Kingdom of God?’. Jesus is of the inclusive idea, while the religious elite and company feel the Kingdom of God is a very exclusive affair; they do not take well Jesus’ divergent views and practices and the climax of this conflict is ultimately Jesus’ death and crucifixion. The passage in question plays well to enhance Luke’s narrative, build up the controversy and the ultimate climax.

Luke presents 15:1-32 as a build up to the growing opposition of Jesus inclusivity trends as pertains to the Kingdom of God that the Pharisees and their company differ with. Once again Luke paints Jesus as one not to be pushed into a corner when required to defend or explain ‘his way of doing things’. In this passage, once again Jesus associates with ‘sinners and tax collector’ (15:1), the Pharisees and the teachers of the law are not amused and they voice their discontent (15:2), Jesus answers right back at them in three successive parable that are a build up to convict the Pharisees (15:3-32).

Contextual Analysis

Historical context

The author of Luke and its sequel Acts is Luke. “. . .early tradition verified by the second century witnesses and the early title of the book . . ., favours Luke, travelling companion of Paul, as the author of Luke-Acts” (Keener 1993, 185). Looking at the Gospel of Luke in its entirety, the theme of the universality of the message of the Kingdom of God stands out: the Kingdom of God is open for all; Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, those accepted as well as those ostracised by the society. Arnold notes the same and states, “. . . the theme of God’s love for all people is most evident in this Gospel with Jesus’ concern for social outcasts, sinners, and the poor. The message of the salvation crosses all racial and social barriers” (Arnold 2002, 320). The Pharisees and the teachers of the law are shown as opposed to Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors (15:1-2).

Arnold helps explain the seeming animosity directed towards the tax collectors: “Tax collectors were despised in Israel, not only because of the reputation for extortion, but also for their complicity with the hated Romans.” Therefore, by Jesus associating with them, he is identifying himself “with the poor, the lowly, and the outcast of Israel” (Arnold 2002, 356). Jesus is going against the grain, the norm of society by associating with tax collector and ‘sinners’. Regarding the setting of the table fellowship Keener breaks it down, what it signified and why it ticked of the Pharisees: “Table fellowship indicated intimate relations among those sharing it. The Pharisees were particularly scrupulous about their special rules on eating did not like to eat with less scrupulous people, especially people like tax gathers and sinners” (Keener 1993, 141). Finally, on the pharisees, “the root character trait distinguishing them . . . is self-righteousness. In stark contrast to Jesus, the religious authorities are stereotyped as those who ‘serve the purposes not of God, but of humans’” (Kingsbury 1991, 82). It is easier to see why the Pharisees react the way they do, what is really informing their thought patterns.

Literary context

The Lukan narrative’s plot begins with an introduction (1:1-4:13): where Luke introduces himself and his primary audience and explains his intentions for writing this Gospel (1:1-4), then the main character Jesus Christ is introduced from birth together with important family members that include his cousin John and his parents (1:5-2:52). Woven in this introduction is an apologetic discourse by Luke as regards the ultimate rejection by the Jews and the religious elite of the man Jesus and his earthly mission. This Luke achieves this by using some of the supporting characters (Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna) who mostly proclaim by either prophetic utterances or songs their ideas of Jesus’ mission (1:41-43, 46-55; 67-79; 2:25-32; 36-38). To wrap up this introduction section Luke takes the reader through Jesus’ preparation for his mission on earth; baptism followed by infilling of the Spirit and lastly wilderness temptation which he overcame (3:1-4:13). At this stage, the reader is already aware of the conflict beneath the surface specifically regarding Jesus’ mission: two opposing views are on the stage regarding the people’s understanding of Jesus’ mission. First is the exclusivity view, it is only for the Jews and politically and economically directed; second is the inclusivity view, it involves breaking racial and social stratification, and holistic inclusive of social, economic, spiritual, and political aspects. (Achtemeier et al. 2001, 157)

The next part is the ministry of Jesus in Galilee (4:14-9:50). It is here that the narrative gains upwards momentum in both the manifestation of the mission of Jesus as well as the opposition of the same. The main highlight of this section is when Jesus declares his mission in the synagogue (4:18-19). What follows is conflict. This is the pattern of this section until the end; Jesus is set and keeps to his mission as stated in (4:18-19) and in the same breath conflict and controversy accompany his every move. Luke details that the source of conflict is diverse, from the crowd, from the Pharisees and even from the scribes. a notable occurrence in this section is the pairing of teaching and miracles (healing, exorcism, and nature miracles); for almost every miracle there seems to be a teaching session and vice versa. Another highlight in this section is Jesus’ choosing of the twelve apostles and the increase in his disciples and followers; the theme of discipleship and the cost of discipleship (9:1-50). The plot reaches its crescendo climax at the end of this section and begins to tilt downwards from 9:51, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem”.
The setting of this part is on the way to Jerusalem (9:51-19:48). In the third section which leads to the climax that is Jesus’ death, Luke continues to show the escalating conflict that mainly involves around the mission of Jesus; its nature and who is included in it. In 11:14-54, the conflict depicted in hostility towards Jesus and his mission is shown to escalate. Luke tones down on the miracles in this section and focuses on Jesus’ teachings : on discipleship and the Kingdom (9:51-10:42; 13:10-19:27); on prayer (11:1-13); on vigilance (12:1-13:9). The teachings, the participants therein and the settings Jesus chooses to deliver the teaching is another main source or fonder for conflict and this Luke details well (Achtemeier et al. 2001, 157).

Finally, Luke reaches the end of his narrative (19:28-24:53). Jesus gets intro Jerusalem jubilantly (19:28-40), and conflict is mixed therein with the disgruntled Pharisees voicing their dissent. Jesus then weeps over Jerusalem and speaks of its future (19:41-44). He raises a storm as soon as he steps into Jerusalem by driving off merchants from the temple (19:45-47) and from there his destiny is sealed and Luke details the killing plots that ensue. Luke clearly shows how the conflict has been building from the beginning catalyses the death by crucifixion of Jesus. In this section Luke brings out several government characters like Pilate and Herod who both seem to be at the mercy of the crowds and the religious elite as regards the ultimate destiny of Jesus. The plot does not end on a sad note though; Luke documents the resurrection and the appearance of Jesus to his disciples and finally the ascension (24:1-53).

In conclusion of the structure of the Luke’s Gospel, I partly agree with Achtemeier et al. who state that in the plot of the Lukan narrative, “. . .a birth narrative is followed by Jesus’ mission in Galilee, which is followed by accounts of his teaching, death, and resurrection in Jerusalem. Geography thus plays a pivotal role in the shaping of the Gospel of Luke (Achtemeier et al. 2001, 156). I however feel that they have left out a key component of this plot, and that is conflict. The conflict thread is woven into this plot from the beginning where it is introduced apologetically up until the climax where it serves as a catalyst in the death of Jesus, where Luke pauses and then picks this conflict theme in the sequel Acts.

The passage under study 15:1-32 falls in what Achtemeier et al. title: who will participate in the Kingdom of God (13:10-17:10)?” They proceed to reveal the answer to this question, “Jesus’ answers revolve around the related motifs of table fellowship, celebration with a shared meal, and the extension of hospitality” (Achtemeier 2001, 167). I agree with them somehow, but I feel their scope is limited. On the other hand however, I almost totally agree with Neale who marks the section from ch.5-19 and of course being biased based on the thesis of his book which revolves around ‘sinners’ feels that this section is where, “. . .the principal framework of controversy for the Galilean ministry is set out, and the chief players in the drama are the Pharisees and associates, the ‘toll collectors and sinners’, and Jesus” (Neale 1991, 100). What I notice is that to Neale there is no distinction between the actual Galilean (geographically speaking) ministry of Jesus and the ministry on the road to Jerusalem from 9:51-19:44. He goes on to note a classic stroke in Luke’s narrative that “The inclusion of Levi among Jesus’ followers (5:27-32) . . . signals the inauguration of this mission to ‘sinners’ and the conversion of Zacchaeus (19:1-10) serves as a vindication of this policy of inclusion pursued throughout the Galilean ministry” (Neale 1991, 101).

Therefore, I would summarise and say that the passage 15:1-32 falls in the conflict-ridden section of 5-19 and this conflict is fuelled by the opposing ideas on ‘who is welcome into the Kingdom of God?’ This passage is sandwiched between ch.14 which has three parables (14:7-11, parable of seats at a feast; 14:15-24, parable of the great dinner; 14:28-33, parable about planning) and Ch. 16 which has two parables (16:1-12, parable of the shrewd manager; 16:19-31, Parable of the rich man and Lazarus). As can already be noted in these three chapters (14-16) the theme of ‘inclusion’ specifically into the Kingdom is riding high. Jesus is clearly shown to be on one side (14:2-3, 12-13; 15:1; 16:22) of this ‘inclusion into the Kingdom’ controversy and the Pharisees and their company (14:1; 15:2; 16:14-15) on the other extreme. the passage serves to enhance Luke’s theme of the inclusivity of the Kingdom of God. As Neale rightly puts it, “. . . these ‘sinners’ provide a target group which Jesus attempts to reach and they are the source of conflict that demonstrates how Jesus differs from his fellow religionists. The ‘sinners are the principal device by which Luke demonstrates the extent and scope of Jesus’ ministry; without ‘sinners’ the story would falter for want of a radical issues around which controversy can build” (Neale 1991, 100).

Overview of Passage

The passage under study Luke 15:1-32 would fall under the form of a narrative discourse, specifically parables (Black, 2011). The passage being with an introduction (vv.1-3), where we are introduced to the main characters, Jesus, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, the sinners, and the tax collectors. Within the introduction we also are introduced to the conflict (v.2). The conflict entails the disgruntlement of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law against Jesus’ behaviours of eating with sinners and tax collectors. After the conflict is introduced, then Jesus who is like the accused in this narrative offers his answers; the twist being that the answer is not a one-liner like the grumbling against Jesus was, but a succession of three parables! (Vv.4-31)

The first two parables are almost identical to the details except for a few additional details in the second parable. Vv. 4 and 8 we are introduced to the protagonist who is a shepherd in v. 4 and a woman in v.8. Each of the protagonists has lost something; the shepherd has lost one sheep out of a hundred sheep while the woman has lost one coin out of ten coins. in the same verses we find that after the loss, each of the protagonist’s searches for what is lost. the only difference is that in the parable of the lost coin, Luke gives more details regarding the search: “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?” (v.8) as opposed to the first parable, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” (v.4). In vv.5-6 and 9 both the shepherd and the woman have found what was lost, the lost sheep and the lost coin. their reaction is similar; they rejoice and call their friends and neighbours to rejoice with them on their find and restoration of the lost item. Finally, in vv.7 and 10 we find a kingdom application to each parable with a similar message of the rejoicing in heaven over a lost sinner who repents. There is a twist in v. 7 however, an additional detail not present in v.10; “. . .than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” This is a comparison of the sinners and those who are not sinners; seems to me a comparison between the sinners and the tax collectors Jesus had chosen to eat with and the Pharisees and teachers of the law.

The third parable is more detailed with more characters than the first two, even if it seems to follow the same plot. it has a father and two sons (v.11), and the father loses one son after he demands for his inheritance (vv.12-13). The father, unlike the shepherd and woman in the first two parables does not search for his lost son; it is the lost son who comes to his senses (v.17) and decides to come back him in the position of a servant just to get daily food (vv.18-19). However, when the son finally gets home, the father initiates reaching out to him before he can repent (v.20), rejoices and receives him back as a son and not as a servant (vv.20-22). He then, just like in the first two parables, throws a party and invites his friends and neighbours to rejoice with him because, “. . .  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” (v.24). The twist comes in at this point, unlike in the other two parables where all the friends and neighbours seem to join in the celebration; the first son not only refuses to join in the celebration, he does not seem happy about the return nor the lavish welcome the father has accorded his younger brother (vv.28-30).

Detailed Analysis (verse-by-verse commentary)

1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable:

The background setting of this chapter is well stated by Luke in vv.1-3. This situation Luke puts forth is one where Jesus is surrounded by ‘sinners’ who desire to hear him. on the other side it seems, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law are watching this scenery and they have a few thoughts of their own against it. according to them Jesus is welcoming sinners and eating with them, which does not augur well with them. We have already noted some of the reasons why the Pharisees are so tucked off about the sinners and tac collectors, the idea of sharing meals as well as the Pharisaic self-righteousattitude.

In v.3, Jesus respond with a parable. however contrary to the implication in v. 3 that Jesus’ response is a parable, implying one parable, what follows is a set of three parables. the first wo parables seem parallel as will be shown below, while the last takes a somewhat different and more detailed approach. in the end though, all parables seem to be driving home a point that is answering the Pharisee’s comment about Jesus’ association with sinners.

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The first parable (vv.4-7) has the characters of a shepherd, his sheep, one hundred to be precise and his friends. Jesus opens this parablewith a rhetorical question (v.4), which following the flow of the events so far is directed to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. the “Pharisees considered shepherds members of an unclean profession and thus would not readily identify with the protagonist of the story” (Keener 1993,231). V.4, ”What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” seems to have Old Testament allusions specifically o Ezekiel 34:11-12,16: the verses detail how the Sovereign Lord as Shepherd of his flock will tend and provide justice to them as well as seeking for the lost, binding their wounds (Kimball 1994, 210).

Jesus portrays a scenario of a shepherd who has lost one sheep among the a hundred and He is showing them that the annual thing for the shepherd to do would be to leave the ninety-nine sheep that safe and go out and look until he finds the lost one. V.5-6 is the action that the shepherd takes once he finds the lost sheep, “he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing”. Bock quoting Preisker and Schulz says that this “imagery clearly alludes to God’s tender and protective care” (Bock 1996, 1301). He then goes on to explain the attitude of the shepherd, “Given the possibility that the sheep could have been permanently lost, stolen, or destroyed by the wild animals, the shepherd rejoices that the lost sheep has been found” (Bock 1996, 1301).

His joy does not end with himself v.6 states that when he gets home, he gathers his friends and neighbours to rejoice with him on his successful search and finding of the lost sheep. Luke does not state it, but by the implication of the statement is that those invited come and they rejoice with the shepherd.

Jesus then summarises this first parable by applying the same principle to the Kingdom of God. He categorically states in v.7 “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” This statement is a punch line; the ‘sinners’ are mentioned here and so are those ‘who do not need to repent’ which I see refers to the Pharisees. Jesus here expounds on the effects of his hanging out with sinners, when it results in repentance, as opposed to those who do not feel they need to repent. Jesus is justifying his association with the ‘sinners’ while openly rebuking the Pharisees at the same time.

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The second parable (vv.8-10) has the characters of a woman, a lamp, ten silver coins and her friends and neighbours. she loses one of the silver coins and from the text it seems the loss occurs within her house. it is not clear if she first secures the other nine, but Luke details her search for the lost one. to better understand the value of the lost coin, quoting Josephus, Bock states that, “The drachma was equivalent to a denarius or a quarter of a shekel, a day’s wage for an average worker.” As regards to the shape of the coin he, quoting Nolland and Derrett, Bock proceeds to note, “Such coins were not circular and so would not roll very far away” (Bock 1996, 13033). Bottom line them, the coin was very valuable to the woman and its loss must have definitely brought distress to her.

Just like in the earlier parable, Jesus opens this one with a rhetorical question on the natural action of a woman in such a scenario. A three-step approach is detailed: first she “lights a lamp” then she “sweeps the house” and finally she “seeks diligently until she finds it.” (v.8) I see Jesus the “seeker and Saviour of the lost (Lk 19:10) describing himself in this parable somehow detailing the extent He chose to go to, for the sake of the ‘lost’ the ‘sinners’.

After finding the coming, following the pattern of the first parable, the woman calls her friends and neighbours to rejoice with her for finding her coin (v.9). Again, the phrase o an eternal perspective closes this parable v. 10, Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” What is missing in this last verse as compared to v.7 is “. . . than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” In this parable no comparison is made between ‘repentant sinners’ and unrepentant ‘righteous persons.’

Neale with the Psalms as his background seeks to shed light on the two terms: ‘righteous’ and ‘sinners’. He puts forth that while “. . . the ‘righteous’ represent those who do God’s will, the ‘sinners’ are those whorepresent a whole complex of behaviour that is opposed to God and his ways. what falls under condemnation is not necessarily ‘specific acts of wickedness so much as the idea of ungodly behaviour” (Neale 1991, 95). Seems these two terms, ‘righteous’ and ‘sinners’, hold a certain meaning to the audience in this passage and that is why Jesus keeps repeating them.

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 

The third and last parable runs from vv.11-32. it is different from the previous two parables in that is has more details, and does not follow the losing (vv.4, 8), looking for (vv.4, 8), finding (vv.5, 9), rejoicing together with friends and neighbours (vv.6, 9) and finally application as regards the Kingdom (vv.7, 10). An interesting note thought is that it seems, “The relative value of the lost item increases in each parable: one out a hundred, one out of ten and finally one out of two” (Keener 1993, 232).

Jesus opens this parable with an introduction to the setting comprising of a father and two sons; the younger son desires to have his share of his father’s estate and the father’s decision to grant his request. There is lack of a rhetorical question as has been observed in the previous two parables. From my African tradition inheritance ‘laws’, division of a patriarchs estate is not done until after their death; actually to request for one’s share of the estate before one’s father is dead is seen as to wish death onto them and consequently invite a curse unto oneself. Similarly, Bock and Keener not that even in Jewish culture, the practice was as in the African culture (Bock 1996, 1309-1310; Keener 1993, 232). Why the father in question here agrees to the son’s request is a paradox.

What is expected of him is described in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 (Keener 1993, 132):

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them,  then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So, you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

However, contrary to cultural expectations Jesus states that the father grants the request of his younger son. what I noticed that has always escaped my attention is that the father doesn’t just give the younger son his share, he also gives the older son his share: v.12b “And he divided his property between them.” Young alerts us to the misnomer in the action of the first-born son: The elder brother received a double portion, two-thirds of the family’s accumulated wealth while the younger received only a third. The elder brother’s silence shouts at the first century audience. he quietly receives his share of the money without involving himself with the broken relationships in his family” (Young 1998, 138). The elder son is displayed as a hypocrite; even though he didn’t commit an abomination by asking for his share of his father’s wealth, while his father was still alive, he receive his share and doesn’t raise an alarm on the irregularity of the issue.

13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to[b] one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

At this point this parable parallels with the earlier two v. 4 and 8, where something is lost: the younger son us ‘lost’ in v.13. The result of the father’s benevolence, if I can call it that, is a natural expression of desire for freedom and separation by the younger son. Linnemann adds a dimension to the younger son’s decision to leave home, by addressing the fertility of Palestine at that time. “Palestine, visited by frequent famines, was not able to support the people of Israel, and anyone who wanted to get on had a better chance in the great trading cities of the Levant. Emigration was the order of the day.” (Linnemann 1966,75) Maybe this and the search for freedom made the younger son venture out into a distant country away from home. the paradox of it all is that, what he had run away from if we ride on Linnemann found him right where he was! Reminds me of Naomi’s family, leaving Bethlehem (the house of bread (because of famine only to meet death and famine where they went (Ruth 1:1-5).

V.14 clearly states that is was not just any famine that ravished the far country where the younger son had gone to, it was “a severe famine”. At this point he has nothing because he had already “squandered his wealth in reckless living.” This is a grievous offense on top of the earlier one of asking for his share of his father’s wealth, while the father was still alive. Arnold puts this in perspective: “The verb translated ‘squandered’ normally means to scatter; the image is of throwing one’s possession to the wind. The adverb translated ‘reckless living’ (asotos) suggests both wild and immoral behaviour. The Jews considered the loss of family property to entitles a particularly grievous offense and grounds for excommunication” (Arnold 2003, 447). This younger son was really moving from one level of sin into another: rapidly so.

The result of his need displayed in v.14 is another slip, “So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs” Arnold clearly notes that, “The Talmud says, ‘cursed is the man who raises swine . . .’” (Arnold 20033, 4447). This younger son had really sunk low. interestingly, Keener notes that, “at this point, Jesus’ Jewish hearers are ready for the story to end (like a similar second-century story): the son gets what he deserves – he is reduces to the horrendous level of feeding off the most unclean of animals. The son is cut off at this point from the Jewish community and any financial charity it would otherwise offer him” (Keener 1993, 233). However, Jesus is not yet done. I see mercy and grace by Christ extending this parable and not leaving it at this juncture as would have been expected by his hearers.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 

After reaching the bottom, the only place to go is up! The son hit rock bottom; he was eating with swine, unclean animals, as a Jew.  V.17 is a break from the earlier downhill part of vv.11-16. the words, “when he came to himself . . .” signal a turn-around in this parable and from here on it is on an upward trajectory. the younger son, in light of his current degenerative state, remembers home (v.17), thinks about the state of even the servants in his father’s house compared to his current state and decides to go back home (v.18). Keener points out the implication of the younger son’s father having slaves (v.17): “’Hired men’ could either be slaves rented for hire or free servants working for pay; either one suggests that his father is well-to-do” (Keener 1993, 233). Interestingly, he not only decides to go back, he has a re-entry plan and even a repentance speech. On the usage of the term “I have sinned against heaven and before you . . .” (v.18, 21), Arnold explains that “’Heaven’ is a Jewish expression of God, a way to avoid using the Divine name” (Arnold 2003, 448).

I am of the opinion that the younger son is genuinely repentant of his ways, and this awareness has been brought about by his current state of need. Keener on the other hand thinks: “The son . . . returns simply out of hunger and belief that his father may feed him as a servant, not because he is genuinely sorry that he disgraced his father. Given the magnitude of his sin and the squandering of one-third of his father’s life earnings, Jewish hearers might regard his return as an act of incredible presumption rather than humility” (Keener 1993, 233).
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 
This part of v.20 is one of my favourite if not my favourite part of this parable. I find it full of intentional love and mercy that is unconditional. the father run when he saw the younger son, not after the son repented! Keener notes the irregularity of this action also and states, “It was a breach of elderly Jewish man’s dignity to run . . .” (keener 1993, 233). The is a song I love that coincides with the significance of the father’s action (Appendix 1). The father “ . . . ran and embraced him and kissed him” The detailed three step action reminds me of the detailed three step search in v.8 (light a lamp, sweep the house, carefully search), it speaks of a deliberate action, planned and well executed not haphazard; makes me think that maybe just like the son had rehearsed his repentance speech, the father might have also rehearsed his welcome run from the day the son left home.

21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Interesting that even after the father interrupts the son, by doing the unimaginable, running towards him; the son still regurgitates his rehearsed speech (v.21), I expected him to be in silent awe! Somehow though, this cements my belief of the younger son’s genuine repentance, he felt so guilty and worthless he did not notice that he had already been forgiven! V. 22 brings with it another trio; ‘best robe’, ‘a ring’ and ‘shoes’. I always wondered if there was any significance to these three items, Kenner set the record straight for me. “The best robe in the house would belong to the father himself. the ring would probably be a family signet-symbol of reinstatement to sonship in a well-to-do home. Slaves did not normally wear sandals . . . The father is saying, ‘No, I won’t receive you back as a servant. I will receive you only as a son’” (Keener 1993, 233). This is simply amazing! Total absolute and unconditional acceptance. Even after Jesus has attribute some of the worst kind of Jewish failures to this younger son: wishing one’s father dead by asking for your inheritance while the father is still above, squandering family inheritance and eating with pigs!

Vv. 23-24 echoes vv.6 and 9, there is rejoicing and celebration which involves friends and neighbours on the finding of what was lost. an important note that Arnold brings forward quoting Baily is that; “A fattened calf was selected and fed for a special occasion such as a wedding feast. Bailey claims that the choice of a calf over a goat or sheep indicates that the whole village is to be invited, confirming the father’s desire to reconcile his son to the community” (Arnold 2003, 448). The father not only reconciles the ‘lost son’ with himself, he desires that his son is reconciled with the wider community! I bet the Pharisees got this punch line too; Jesus was not just seeking to be reconciled to the ‘sinners’ and tax collectors as God, his desire was that they are reconciled with other members of the Kingdom too.

In v. 25 the father uses some eye-catching words to describe his younger son, “For this sone of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found . . .” The father was not in denial of the son’s wayward ways and past. He acknowledged it, and in the same breath pronounced forgiveness and total acceptance, reinstatement back into the family.


25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

The glaring difference between this last parable and the other two comes up in vv.25-32: there is someone who does not join in the rejoicing and celebration at the return of the younger son, the older son! In vv.6 and 9 when the shepherd finds the lost sheep and the woman finds the lost coin respectively, they invite their friends and neighbours who come and join them in rejoicing and celebrating the finding of what was lost. V. 28 then stands as a stark contrast to vv. 6 and 9; “But he was angry and refused to go in.” The older brother does not just refuse to join in the celebration, he is angry at the turn of events. As had been noted earlier, this is really unbecoming of an older son, who should have been the mediator/reconciler between his father and his younger brother from the beginning before the issues deteriorated to where they reached when the younger son came home (Keener 1993, 233).

The self-righteousness is the older son is clearly detailed in vv.29-30 after the father goes outside to try and bring the older son into the party. The older son speaks highly of himself: ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.” (v.29); while speaking down about his younger brother: But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him! (v.30) In his self-righteous speech, it is clear who the older brother represents among the audience the Pharisee and their company while the younger son represents the sinners and tax collectors. (Keener 1993, 234) What is interesting also is how he represents the younger brother in his speech (vv.29-30), “as the rebellious son of Deuteronomy 21:18-21, who should by law be stoned. He also refuses to identify his as ‘my brother’” (Arnold 2003, 448).

The reaction of the father to his older son’s behaviour is as we should expect by now, not according to the Old Testament guidelines, but full of mercy, reconciliation, and grace. The father reassures the older son of his place in the home (v.31) and the reiterates the importance of the celebration and rejoicing going on (v.32). We are not told about the son’s decision after this plea from the father, it is left open; the same to the Pharisees and their company who had vocalised their disgruntlement to Jesus because of his welcoming and dining with ‘sinners’ and tax collectors.

Young makes a summary of this third punchline parable that I find to the point:

Jesus loves to use role reversal in his parabolic teachings to break normal expectation. He shocks the listener by turning their world upside down. The audience probably expects the elder son to fill the role of a family mediator. Instead, he acts out the part of a greedy hypocrite. it expects the younger son to die of starvation rather than accept the shame of returning to his father. it would have understood severe punishment from a father who suffered such abuse from his sons. instead the audience is overwhelmed by his compassion. (Young 1998, 140)

Jesus shocks his listeners and thus gains their attention and hopefully they gain the rebuke and teaching therein.


Luke in this passage, details three parables given by Jesus all answering the same accusation And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (v.2). My understanding of the author-text meaning of this passage is directly from the details of the response of Jesus (three parables: parable of the lost sheep, parable of the lost coin and parable of the lost son). Luke who already declared in 1:3 the purpose and manner that his account would take “ . . .it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, . . .” doesn’t disappoint in this passage. I feel the issue here is “Who is welcome into the Kingdom?” Jesus desires the Pharisees and company who question him as well as the ‘sinners’ and tax collectors whoa re gathered with him to understand about the Kingdom of God. Three things particularly seem repeated and reiterated in this passage: First God is in the ministry of reconciling himself to the lost and welcoming them into His Kingdom. Secondly, those whoa re outside of the Kingdom are welcome into the Kingdom. Lastly, those whoa re inside the Kingdom should not only be welcoming those coming in but should also be actively seeking many to enter the Kingdom.

In vv.3 and 8 Luke details how the shepherd and the woman in both parables seek for what is lost; leaving what is secure to go out and seek what is lost with an intention to restore it. In vv.20-24 Luke details how the father runs to and welcomes back home the lost son, throwing a party in celebration of his return and restoration back into the family and community at large. in all three parables, the one who has lost something is the one who initiates the search (vv. 3, 8) and forgiving welcome (v.20). Luke details Jesus’ recommendation of the united rejoicing in vv.6 and 9 by comparing it in vv.7 and 10 to what happens ion heaven when a sinner is reconciled to God, great rejoicing. In the same breath Luke details the contrast of the behaviour of the older brother who does not join in the celebration (v.28) and goes ahead to declare his self-righteousness while condemning his younger brother (vv.29-30). The older brother should have been reconciling his younger brother to his father and leading celebration as the reconciliation is seen as distancing himself, not actively taking his role and behaving totally opposite of expectation; he desires exclusivity.


In this passage I feel the three main points are as relevant to the present-day reader as they were to the original audience of Luke’s writing. God desires to continually remind us that he is in the active business of seeking those whoa re lost. He desires that those who are inside his fold be also actively involved in this ministry of reconciliation, and to all the repentant that are outside the fold, his message of unconditional love and acceptance stills stands. In summary his kingdom is inclusive and open to all who are repentant.

Today, we still have Pharisaic attitudes and behaviours within the fold. The message ion this passage is a loud reminder of exactly what God thinks about such behaviour; feelings and expressions of exclusivity in relation to the Kingdom of God, not actively participating in reconciliation and rejoicing when repentant sinners are received into the Kingdom: as well as an open rebuke.

Sermon Plan

1.       Passage for Sermon Luke 15:1-32
2.       Main Exegetical point of passage (the authors main point) The Kingdom of God is inclusive
3.       Audience for sermon (key demographics and/or spiritual characteristics or needs that affect how you speak to the audience) The youth.

Group 1: prone to fall especially into sexual sins; pornography, fornication, masturbation

Group 2: Have decided the path they want to take in life, to follow Christ despite the cost and are doing so

4.       How the people in your audience are different from the audience the author was addressing in the passage? They are different in age, culture, and social setting
5.       How are the people in your audience similar to the audience the author was addressing in your passage? The youth who have it all figured out sound like the Pharisees in the passage

The youth who have it all messed up sound like the lost sheep, coin, and son in the passage.

6.       What is the specific contemporary parallel situation you are addressing in this sermon? What makes this a genuine parallel to the situation in your passage? The youth who have not engaged ins sexual sins feel they do not want to relate with those who are failing. Those who are in sexual sins feel they are less and unworthy of God and even the company of the other youth.

Part of the group, those who are not into sexual sins, like the Pharisees and the older son are looking down on those who have fallen. They feel they are better and should receive the most attention and not those who have fallen.

7.       Main expository point of sermon (contemporary meaning you want to convey for this parallel situation) The Kingdom of God is not exclusively for the perfect, but it is inclusive of the ‘righteous’ and the ‘sinners’ who need restoration.

God reaches out to restore those have sinned and any who call themselves his friends should also be in the business of restoration as well as rejoicing when the restoration takes place; not in condemnation and separatism.

8.       Desired outcome of sermon (change in attitude or behaviour you hope to create in your audience) That there will be extension of grace from those who have not sinned to those who have.

Those who have not fallen into sexual sin will realise they are meant to be active participants with Christ in restoration and rejoicing when it happens.

Those who have fallen into sexual sin will receive restoration grace even as they gracefully deal with the consequences of their choices.

Appendix 1

When God Ran by Benny Ray Hester and John Parenti

Almighty God,
The Great I Am
Immoveable Rock,
Omnipotent powerful

Awesome Lord,
Victorious Warrior
Commanding King of Kings
Mighty Conqueror,

And the only time,
the only time I ever saw Him run
Was when

He ran to me,
Took me in His arms, held my head to His chest
And said “My son’s come home again”.
Looked in my face, wiped the tears from my eyes
With forgiveness in His voice
He said “Son, do you know I still love you?”

It caught me by surprise when God ran

The day I left Home,
I knew I’d broken His heart
I wondered if
Things would ever be the same,

Then one night,
I remembered His love for me
And down that dusty road, ahead I could see
It was the only time,
the only time I ever saw Him run

Was when He ran to me,
Took me in His arms, held my head to His chest
And said “My son’s come home again”.
Looked in my face, wiped the tears from my eyes
With forgiveness in His voice
He said “Son, do you know I still love you?”

It caught me by surprise, It dropped me to my knees
When God ran

Holy God, Righteous One
Who turned my way
Now I know, His been waiting
For this day

He ran to me,
Took me in His arms, held my head to His chest
And said “My son’s come home again”.
Looked in my face, wiped the tears from my eyes
With forgiveness in His voice
I felt His love for me again

He ran to me,
Took me in His arms, held my head to His chest
And said “My son’s come home again”.
Looked in my face, wiped the tears from my eyes
With forgiveness in His voice
He said Son, He said Son, My Son!
Do you know I still love you
oohhh…He ran to me
When God ran

When God Ran lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Warner Chappell Music Inc


Reference List

Achtemeier, Paul J., Green Joel B., and Thompson Marianne Meyer. 2001. Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Arnold, Clinton E, ed. 2002. Zondervan Illustrated Background Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke. Zondervan: Grand Rapids Michigan.

Black, Stephanie. 2011. BS 501 Hermeneutics -Lecture 4: Textual Meaning: Narrative, Poetry. Unpublished

Bock, Darrell L. 1994. Luke Volume 1 1:1-9:50 BECNT. Grand Rapids: Baker.

…………………1996. Luke: Volume 2:9:51-24:53 BECNT. Grand Rapids: Baker

Duvall J. Scott and Hays J. Daniel. 2001. Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-on Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Keener, Craig S. 1993. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, Illinois.

Kimball, Charles A. 1994. Jesus’ Exposition of the Old Testament in Luke’s Gospel. JSOT Press: Sheffield, England.

Kingsbury, Jack Dean. 1991. Conflict in Luke: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples. Fortress Press: Minneapolis.
Linnemann, Eta. 1996. Jesus of the Parables: Introduction and Exposition. Harper & Row Publishers: New York and Evanston.

Meier, John P. 1991. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Vol.III: Companions and Competitors. Doubleday: New York.

Neale, David. A. 1991. None but the Sinners: Religious Categories in the Gospel of Luke. JSOT Press: Sheffield, England.

Nolland, John. 1993. World Bible Commentary: Luke 9:21-18:34. Word Books: Dallas, Texas.

………………1989. World Bile Commentary: Luke 1-9:20. Word Books: Dallas, Texas.

Robert, H. Stein. 2004. A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules. Baker Books: Grand Rapids Michigan.

Young, Brad H. 1998. The Parable: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation. Hendrickson Publishers: Peabody, Massachusetts.

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