Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, June 21, 2020
God’s Never-ending Grace Abounds for the Lost
By Dr. and Senator Raymond Finney
INTRODUCTION: Today is Father’s Day. I have had a father, and I have been a son. Having been blessed with four children and two grandchildren, I am a father.
I regretfully admit that I should have been a better son, father, and grandfather. Do you ever wish you could relive your life, knowing what you now know, and correct your past errant ways? I do. I would like to relive my life, armed with a huge barrel of “magic spackle” to patch over my past shortcomings. Unfortunately, there is no “magic spackle.” Our past is filled with gaping wounds and ugly scars. Only Adonai can forgive– and forget– our past sins (Isaiah 43:25).
Today’s RR is taken from Luke, chapter 15. “Tax collectors and sinners” crowded around Yeshua to hear Him, but “Pharisees and Torah scholars” complained about Yeshua’s association with such riffraff (Luke 15:1-3).
Finding Himself speaking to persons whose souls were lost, Yeshua taught three parables about lost items:
** The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7) – the owner of 100 sheep loses one. He leaves the 99 safe sheep to search for the lost sheep. Finding and returning the one lost sheep, he rejoices.
** The Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10) – a woman has ten silver coins, but loses one. After an intensive search, she finds the lost coin and rejoices.
** The Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32). This parable is frequently said to concern the “prodigal son” [“prodigal” = recklessly, wastefully extravagant],” rather than the “lost son.” There are two lost sons in this parable, but the parable is really about their loving father. The first part of the parable about the younger (prodigal) son and his forgiving father is easy to interpret, but the second part of the parable about the older (jealous) son and his father is more difficult for me to interpret.
PARABLE OF THE LOST, YOUNGER (PRODIGAL) SON: Consider the first part of Yeshua’s parable (Luke 15:11-24):
** Luke 15:11-12: Then Yeshua said, “A certain man had two sons, and the younger of them said to the father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that comes to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them.”
Note: First-century Jews probably followed practices that dated from the laws of Moses. According to Deuteronomy 21:17, the firstborn son was entitled to inherit twice as much as any other heir. Many followed the wisdom of Yeshua Ben Sirach (Ben Sira), a Jewish sage, who wrote the “Book of Ecclesiasticus” in ca 180 BC. This sage specifically warned fathers not to distribute the family wealth until death.
The younger son flouted long-standing traditions, and asked something no loving son would ask– give him his inheritance, while the father lived. The son in effect said: “I only have regard for you because of your wealth. I have no use– no love– for you while you live. Give me now what is mine, that I may leave home.”
** Luke 15:13a: “Not many days later, the younger son gathered everything and traveled to a far country,….”
Note: The younger son compounded the hurt and public embarrassment the father experienced by selling his inheritance– hurriedly and, probably, at a greatly reduced value. The father had worked a lifetime to accumulate the family wealth, but now much was squandered in short order by this ungrateful, prodigal son.
** Luke 15:13b-16: “… and there [in the far country] he squandered his inheritance on wild living. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine came against that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to fill up on the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one was giving him any.”
Note: Some of us may have found ourselves in “a far country,” away from the protection of a loving family. The son came to feel he would never have– nor did he deserve– the protection and counsel of his father. He had wasted his share of the father’s wealth. He had spurned his father’s love. He had hurt his father. He had essentially told the father he wished he (the father) were dead. Not only did the son have a personal famine, the country to which he had moved was cursed with a drought/ famine. The only work the son– the son of a wealthy man– could find was to be a farm hand. Working as a farm laborer is not shameful, but this son’s work was to care for hogs. The son, still a Jew, was forced to care for and live with these animals.
For his entire life, the son had been taught that hogs were unclean and were to be always avoided (the Bible prohibits even the touching of pigs), The son had the very worst job imaginable. However, he was so hungry that he envied the hogs for the carob pods they ate, while his stomach gnawed with hunger pangs.
The carobtree– Ceratonia siliqua, also called “John’s Bread” because John the Baptizer is said to have eaten these carob pods– bears coarse pods, similar to pods on the locust trees which grow in our area. The sweet-tasting carob pods (cocoa substitute) were fed to livestock as cheap fodder to fatten the animals. Poor people were forced to scavenge the hillsides, and collect and eat carob pods because they could not afford better food. The son watched the hogs eat, while wishing he could share the hog’s food and while thinking of the good food back in his father’s house.
** Luke 15:17-19: “But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have food overflowing, but here I am dying of hunger! I’ll get up and go to my father, and I’ll say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your presence. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.’”
Note: Yeshua painted a picture of redemption. The younger son, like every sinner who ever lived, must be convicted of the error of his ways (repent), arise to go back to Father God, prepare to say with his words that he has sinned against the father and “against heaven,” and walk away from sin (from Satan) toward home (toward God). As he walked home from “the far country” (for us, any place other than Heaven), the son passed all of the places of sin– taverns, gambling houses, brothels, and the like– that had falsely befriended him when he was rich, but now rejected him when he was poor.
I have heard many persons who have repented after being alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, and others living in sin, but are now living a godly life, that they found redemption only after hitting “rock bottom.” A person’s success has been defined as rising to one’s feet one more time than being knocked down. Many quotations exist about hitting rock bottom, before rising to the top, including this quotation from Kirk Franklin: “God may allow us at times to hit rock bottom, to show us He’s the rock at the bottom.”
** Luke 15:20-24: “And he got up and went to his own father. But while he was still far away, his father saw him and felt compassion. He ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your presence. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it! Let’s celebrate with a feast! For this son of mine was dead and has come back to life– he was lost and is found!’ Then they began to celebrate.”
Note: The father knew the son was lost from that sad day when he watched him walk away from home to the “far country.” He was not angry at the son, but he was heartbroken. Picture the old man, face turned toward the “far country,” searching daily for puffs of dust on the horizon that might signal a returning son. Every day, the old man probably cried and asked repeatedly, “Will today be the day my beloved son returns to me?”
Yeshua would have us believe that Father God loves us certainly more than the father in this parable. We have all been lost sons and daughters, no matter how self-righteous we would like others to believe we are. We have all been prodigal sons and daughters, wasting the gifts and opportunities God has given us.
Yeshua gave us a picture of the perfect nature of the parabolic father, and he serves as a model of our Father God. The father forgave the repentant son for all his sins. Father God is willing to forgive us, when we repent (1 John 1:9): If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Understand a phrase in the parable– the father ran to meet his son. In the first century, men wore robes, which extended to their ankles. A grown man would never show his legs in public. To do so would be extremely embarrassing. Picture the father, as he pulled up his robe above his knees and ran as fast as his old legs could carry him. At this point, he cared nothing about his dignity and how much he humiliated himself. He only cared about one thing– his “dead” son now lived, and he had come home!
The son was welcomed into the family he earlier had deserted:
** “The best robe” was placed on the son, who would have stood before his father in servant’s clothing, heavily stained with hog manure and urine, rotting hog slop, sweat, and dust.
** A ring was placed on his hand. The Greek text merely states that “a finger ring” was given to the son, but one wonders if Yeshua might clarify His parable to state the son was given a signet ring. A signet ring was one of the most valuable possessions a man could own. There was a unique symbol (family crest?) on the face of the ring. Only a trusted member of the family could wear such a ring. Legal documents were sealed by adding hot (molten) wax to the parchment; the ring was pressed into the wax, until it hardened. The image of the signet ring would be forever preserved in the seal, making the document official (“signed” by a member of the family, much as we notarize documents). Such a ring would make the son a valued part of the family, with full rights to speak for the family. We have a Gospel message, and we have the right (the duty) to speak this message on behalf of our Father, just as Paul taught (1 Corinthians 2:2): For I decided not to know about anything among you except Yeshua the Messiah– and Him crucified.
** Sandals were placed on the son’s feet. Slaves/ servants were all barefooted in the first century. Only the upper classes wore sandals, and the son would inherit a place in this class.
** The fattened calf was slaughtered and a feast was held in honor of the returning son. Yeshua has promised that all blessed Believers who stay in God’s family will some day eat at the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9): Then the angel tells me [the Apostle John], “Write: How fortunate are those who have been invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb!….”
PARABLE OF THE LOST, OLDER (JEALOUS) SON: Consider the second part of Yeshua’s parable (Luke 15:25-32):
** Luke 15:25-32: “Now his older son was out in the field. And as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called out to one of the servants and began to ask what these things could be. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he got him back safe and sound.’ But the older son was angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came outside and pleaded with him. But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look, so many years I’ve slaved away for you– not once did I ignore your order. Yet you’ve never given me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came– the one who has squandered your wealth with prostitutes– for him you killed the fattened calf!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything that is mine is yours. But it was right to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead but has come back to life! He was lost, but is found.’”
Note: I am uncertain how to interpret this part of the parable. I will leave space for Rabbi Weiner to add a Rabbi’s Trail and clear up any confusion I cause. My interpretation is:
Rabbi Trail: (Raymond invited me to comment, so I am.) There are many ways to interpret parables. In fact, I believe the Lord has many layers of understanding, and that each is valid. Here too, the older son, who never disrespected his father could be any of us (Jewish or non-Jewish). All of us have sinned against God, but every once in a while we like to feel self-righteous (like the older son). Please keep that in mind as you continue reading Raymond’s excellent lesson. End RT.
** The younger son represents spiritual faith in Yehovah through Yeshua as Savior (Christianity, etc. – and, it is reasonable to include Messianic Believers – that is, the ekklesia in Greek, or “the called out ones” in English). Followers of Yeshua (both the Jewish ones and the non-Jewish ones) have followed a checkered path, traveling in prodigal living through many “far countries.” Always, though, God the Father has watched in great hope to see if His younger son– those called out of the world to be part of the Body of HaMashiach– would return.
Yeshua, the Apostle Paul, and others prophesied a great apostasy before the return of Yeshua. Such apostasy is one of the conditions that must be met before the Tribulation (the Antichrist’s rise to power) takes full force (2 Thessalonians 2:3): Let no one deceive you in any way, for the Day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the one destined to be destroyed. In last week’s RR, I explained that “rebellion” is a poor TLV translation. The Greek word, here, is apostasia, which is translated “apostasy or falling way from the faith,” not rebellion.
** The older son may represent (in some ways) Judaism. This “son” had been in Adonai’s family for many centuries before Yeshua’s birth. The Jewish people (“older son”), although often living in rebellion and corruption, had kept the faith of Abraham and Moses alive. We would not now have the Tanakh, had it not been for the labor, faith, and sacrifices of many generations of Jews. When the “younger brother” (Christianity) came along, the “older brother” (Judaism) tried to stop it.
Paul acknowledged the older brother’s (the Jews’) jealousy over the younger brother’s (the Christians’) relationship with Adonai (Romans 11:11): I say then, they [the Jews] did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their false step salvation has come to the Gentiles [Christians], to provoke Israel to jealousy.
THE REAL MESSAGE OF THIS PARABLE: Yeshua was not teaching in this parable about sibling rivalry. The parable is usually called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” or “The Parable of the Lost Son.” A better title would be “The Parable of the Forgiving Father.” Both sons were, truthfully, spoiled brats. Probably all of us have been like one or both sons at some time in our lives. If you think you miss acting like this, ask a close friend.
The father in the parable represents God the Father (Adonai, Yehovah). The parabolic father was perfect in every way, as our Heavenly Father is perfect in every way.
As children of God, our Father in heaven:
** Searches for us when we are lost, never losing hope that today might be the day His son/ daughter may come home to Him;
** Faithfully forgives us, when we sin;
** Does not see the “clothes” we wear as bondservants to sin, covered with the filth of this world, but does see who we can become– clean and pure– and lovingly covers us with the finest, cleanest robes;
** Stands ready to return us to our rightful place in His family and to restore all rights and privileges we foolishly abandoned, when we reject our home in Heaven;
** Provides a place at His table– the Communion table– in which we may eat of the Bread of Life at any time to quell any spiritual hunger; and
** Has reserved for us a place at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, at which time we will be eternally wed to the Bridegroom Yeshua.
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY: If you are a father, Happy Father’s Day! This day is more than a day to receive gifts from your children. This day should be a day to remember God’s blessing to you (Psalm 127:3): Behold, children are a heritage of Adonai– the fruit of the womb is a reward.
The last word to fathers: And, father, this would be a good time to resolve to model yourself and your relationship with your children after God the Father and His relationship with His children.
The last word to children: If your father is still living, he would appreciate a visit or telephone call from you.
And, since we are all children, the last word to us all: Your Heavenly Father– your Abba– is still living. He would appreciate a prayer of thanksgiving from you. Shalom and Maranatha.