One of the most popular stories taught in our churches today is the story or the parable of the second son who left home after asking for part of the inheritance that belonged to him. We seldom teach about the boy that stayed at home with his father. There is almost nothing said about their father in the whole story. What exactly did Jesus have in mind when he spoke this parable? It isn’t a true story, because none of the characters had a specific name or identity.
A PARABLE is a short fictitious narrative which illustrates a principle of doctrine. It is called “PARABOLE” which is a compound Greek word: “PARA” which means BESIDE and “BOLE”, which means THROW. Putting them together denotes “SETTING ALONGSIDE” or a companion. In order to understand a parable, one must tie the story with a principle of doctrine.
All parables are derived from the mode of life as it was at the time the parable was written. The characters and incidents are figurative or typical, and proper names and specific geographical locations are never used.
The narrative of a parable has an outward literal meaning which both the unbeliever and believer can understand, but parables are directed primarily toward the believer with bible doctrine at the heart of it.
A parable is distinct from a fable because fables use animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as characters. Parables generally employ the use of human character; therefore it’s a type of analogy.
Only the believer with the filling of the Holy Spirit and doctrine is able to understand the spiritual significance of the story. The story read about the Father and two Sons, can be sub-divided into different parts; representing the different sects (churches), messages propagated to the body of Christ and the general beliefs we have today.
Due to various beliefs, messages and teachings that abound, the church has now become the seat of confusion and misperception.
Going back to the beginning of the story in Luke 15, we see a discourse between Jesus and the Pharisee’s and Scribe’s. They had a complaint to make about Jesus’ association with the publicans and sinners; as no self-respecting Jew would ever be seen in the company of the people that Jesus had around him, much less fraternize with them: why will Jesus speak to them, why will Jesus heal their sickness, why will Jesus eat with them.
It was because of these complaints that Jesus gave the parable in explanation to them of what His mission is (was) on earth. The complaints spelt above were the reason for this parable, meaning that there was a separation between the Jews (the Pharisees and Scribes) and the other people in the world (Gentiles).
He gave three parables in this chapter pointing to the same thing and the issue of segregation and separation between the Jews and the Non-Jews, because at the mouth of two to three witnesses a truth is established.
The first parable was about the lost sheep. The whole flock of a hundred sheep was the whole of mankind belonging to the divine shepherd. He compared the lost sheep to the Gentile Nation and the ninety nine sheep to the Jewish nation; he compared human beings to animals. Of course the Scribes and Pharisees knew that no creature strays more easily than a SHEEP, none is more heedless. None is capable of finding its own way back to the flock. When a sheep is gone astray, it will bleat for the flock, and still run in opposite direction to the place where the flock is. No creature is more defenceless than a sheep than a sheep, and more exposed to be devoured by dogs and wild beasts. Even the fowls of the air seek their destruction. The shepherd looks for the sheep.
The second parable was about the lost coin. Mankind was compared to an inanimate (dead/non-living) object. The DRACHMA was a day’s wage for a person. In this parable one was lost. The longer a piece of money was lost, the less probability is there to its being found, as it may not only lose its colour and not be easily observed, but will continue to be more and more covered with dust and dirt; or its value may be vastly lessened by being so trampled on that a part of the substance, together with the image and subscription may be worn off. The owner of the coin must look for the lost coin.
The third parable was about the lost son. He compares mankind to these two sons having one thing common among them; their father. One of the sons was lost and had to be found and restored back, because the sheep had to be restored and the coin from previous parable had to be restored as well.
This is where we miss the whole story and essence of this parable. We make propositions about the two sons and derive moral stories; not only do we derive moral stories about what both sons should have done better, or about their individual character. We change the content of this parable to SELF as if we can save ourselves. There is danger in thinking SELF can accomplish the things that only God can accomplish. The first parable did not discuss the character of the sheep that went astray and the second parable did not discuss the character of the lost coin.
A theology of self-help is the modern day teaching which nullifies the finished work at Calvary. It is one of the device of Satan to de-focus the Church through motivational speakers because it only appeals to our emotions and flesh.
A lot of things that absorb us from Christ these days are even good things. In order to push us off track, all that Satan has to do is throw several spiritual fads (craze, fashion), moral and political crusades, and other “relevant” operations into our field of vision.
Focusing the conversation on US – our desires, needs, feelings, experience, activity and inspirations – energizes us. Wherever Christ is truly and clearly being proclaimed, Satan is most actively present in opposition. The wars between the Nations and enmity within families and neighbourhood are but the wake of the serpent’s tail as he seeks to devour the Church. Yet even in this pursuit, he is more subtle than we imagine. He lulls us to sleep as we trim our message to the triviality of popular culture and invoke Christ’s name for anything and everything but salvation from coming judgement.
The Church today is so obsessed with being practical, relevant and helpful, successful, and perhaps even well-liked that it only mirrors the world itself. Aside from packaging, there is nothing present in most churches today that cannot be satisfied by any number of secular programs and self-help groups.
It is easy to become distracted from Christ as the only hope for sinners. Where everything is measured by our happiness rather than by God’s holiness, the sense of our being sinners becomes secondary, if not offensive.
There is always that tendency to make God a supporting character in our own life movie rather than to be rewritten as new characters in God’s drama of redemption.
If we are good people who have lost our way but with the proper instruction and motivation can become better people, we need only a LIFE COACH and not a REDEEMER.
Rather than be swept into God’s new world, we come to the church to find out how we can make God relevant to the real world which the New Testament identifies as the one that is actually fading away.
We desire experience more than knowledge. We prefer choices to absolutes. We embrace preferences rather than truths. We seek comfort rather than growth. Faith must come in our terms or we reject it. We have enthroned ourselves as the final arbiters of righteousness, the ultimate rulers of our own experience and destiny.
The idea is everyman for himself, with no second thoughts or regrets about the personal or societal implications of this incredibly nihilistic and narcissistic way of life.
We have become the PHARISEES of the new millennium.
The story in this parable should not be different from the first two; the Shepherd goes to look for the sheep, the owner of the coin looks for the coin and therefore the father must restore his son in this parable as well.
This is the reason for this parable. Jesus will therefore sit and eat with sinners because the good, bad and the ugly have all proceeded from the same God. Jesus will eventually make provisions for restoration.
What distinguishes Christianity as the heart of the matter is not its moral code but its story – the story of a Creator who, although rejected by those He created in His image, stooped to reconcile them to Himself through His Son.
This is not a story about an individual’s heavenward progress but the recital of historical events of God’s incarnation, atonement, resurrection, ascension and return coupled with the exploration of their rich significance. At its heart, the story is the gospel: the Good news that God has reconciled us to himself by Christ.
Moralistic religion of self-salvation is our default setting as fallen creatures. If we are not explicitly and regularly taught out of it, we will always turn the message of God’s rescue operation into a message of self-help.
Luke 15: 1 – 32