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The son demanding his inheritance means so much more.

“The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them.” (Luke 15:12)

The Jewish custom of the day was to wait until after the death of a father to gain any inheritance. Thus, by demanding his inheritance prematurely, the younger son is basically saying to his father, “You are dead to me.” Jesus’ audience would have seen the son’s wish as a huge disrespect toward his father.

Violating the Torah brings shame to the whole family.

“After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation”  Luke 15:13

After he receives his inheritance, the younger son departs for foreign lands and there he violates the Torah in many different forms. This not only brings shame upon his family, but the prodigal son essentially disowns himself through his sin.

Living with pigs means defilement.

"When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed" (Luke 15:14-16)

For reasons of cleanliness, Jews were not allowed to eat pork. The fact that the prodigal son not only lived with the pigs, but longed to eat their food would have disgusted Jesus’ audience. Moreover, living among the pigs signifies a defilement of appearance, while wanting to eat their food illustrates a defilement within.

The embrace of the father seems unjust.

"Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him." (Luke 17-20)

When the prodigal son finally decided to go home, it’s not so much because he is penitent, but because he is starving. However, this does not stop the father—who has been looking out for his lost son—from running out to embrace him. The father’s acceptance would have perplexed the Jewish audience, as they would have seen this as completely unjust.

The ring was a family crest.

"His father ordered his servants, ‘... put a ring on his finger.'" (Luke 15:22)

Jewish men were not in the custom of wearing jewelry for decorative fashions. The ring the father gave the son was a signet ring bearing the family crest. Thus, by allowing the prodigal son to wear this ring, the father is inviting him into his home as part of his family.

Temporal needs were met.

"His father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put … sandals on his feet.'” (Luke 15:22)

Jesus continues to shock his Jewish audience with the love of the prodigal son’s father and his concern for his son’s well-being. By giving his son a robe and sandals, the father indicates that his son will always be taken care of in his house, and most certainly will never be a slave.

The fattened calf was reserved for great celebrations.

"'Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.' Then the celebration began" (Luke 15:23-24)

For the Jewish people, the fattened calf was choice meat and only reserved for the greatest of celebration days. The father’s choice of meat tells us that the son’s return was worthy of great rejoicing.

The older son represents the Mosaic law.

"Now the older son … became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’" (Luke 15:25-30)

The reaction of the older son represents the Mosaic law, whereas, in the Parable of the Prodigal son, Jesus introduces the law of the new covenant. The older son is rightly angry, as he has obeyed the law his whole life. The father understands that, and begs the older son to come inside, so he can gently explain why he has welcomed the younger brother home.

In this parable, Jesus reveals the identity of the father.

"He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 31-32)

At the end of the parable, Jesus reveals to his Jewish audience who the father is. He is Jesus’ Father (Abba), who, like the father of the Prodigal Son, is the heart of unconditional love and nothing less. Through the parable, Jesus shows that, despite the distances we may put between ourselves and God through sin, the Father is always waiting with open arms to welcome us back into his kingdom.
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