The Famous Parable And Sacrifice

AUTHOR: Holy Scripture

The Bible is full of stories of incredible sacrifice, and the discipline of sacrifice is better learned through observation and practice. The men and women of the Bible serve as our mentors and guides as we learn how to sacrifice.

READ:

Read or listen to Luke 15:11–32.

He also said, “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.’ So he distributed the assets to them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living. After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing. Then he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He longed to eat his fill from the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one would give him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father told his servants, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he summoned one of the servants, questioning what these things meant. ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

“‘Son,’he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

FOCUS:

Read the blog below. What is one thing you learned about sacrifice?

The Famous Parable And Sacrifice

By Paul Brandes

 

The Misnamed Parable

One of Jesus’ most famous parables has the wrong name.

Found in Luke 15:11–32, the parable is often titled “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” A prodigal is a “spendthrift,” one who “spends money or resources freely and recklessly.” And so the parable bears that title because of the actions of the younger of two sons. This son defies his father by demanding his inheritance early, which in effect tells his dad, I wish you were dead.

Of course, the money is soon gone, and the son decides that he will slink back home and beg his father to take him back not as a son, and not even as a servant worthy of living in the house, but as “hired hand,” the lowest rung on the ladder.

However, the father will have none of this plan—he bucks cultural tradition by running toward his son—then wraps him in an embrace and throws an elaborate feast in his honor. He also makes clear that he is receiving his son back as a son again when he beautifully declares “this SON of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” (v. 24).

And that’s it! Parable over, with the point being that God loves us and receives us, even when we royally screw up.

Or is it?


The Unwilling Sacrifice

Now, of course God does love us and receive us, no matter what. But we can’t forget that this generous father had two sons. A closer look at his part in this parable helps us understand why a name that focuses only on the younger son is incorrect.

The older son is “off stage” until the party for the younger son is underway. He was dutifully and diligently out working in the field, and only learns of the party when he calls a servant to himself to get the lowdown. He’s angry, and refuses to enter the party, which was culturally a sign of enormous disrespect toward the father, the “master” of the party.

But it’s worth exploring why the older brother was angry. He mentions the “fattened calf,” and how he never had even as much as a goat to celebrate with his friends. Maybe he’s just upset about the resources that are being expended on the celebration party? But I don’t think so.

You see, the older son knows that the father has received his younger brother back into the family as a son again.

Which means what? That the younger son will receive another portion of the father’s inheritance when he actually does die.

Which means what? That the older son will necessarily receive less.

And there it is.

One of the criticisms against this parable is that there is no sacrifice, which is necessary for true forgiveness. But this criticism misunderstands the overall point of the parable by placing too much emphasis on the part of just the younger son. There was sacrifice, it was just paid unwillingly by the older son.


The Willing Sacrifice of Jesus

Doesn’t this layered understanding make the parable even better? Not only does God love us and receive us no matter what, he does so by way of the willing sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ. Our true and better older brother who left the comforts of heaven to come to the pigpen to find us and save us.

Reflecting on this, pastor and author Tim Keller writes in his book, The Prodigal God,

The younger brother’s restoration was free to him, but it came at enormous cost to the elder brother. The father could not just forgive the younger son, somebody had to pay! The father could not reinstate him except at the expense of the elder brother. There was no other way. But Jesus does not put a true elder brother in the story, one who is willing to pay any cost to seek and save that which is lost. It is heartbreaking. The younger son gets a Pharisee for a brother instead. But we do not. By putting a flawed elder brother in the story, Jesus is inviting us to imagine and yearn for a true one. And we have him. Think of the kind of brother we need. We need one who does not just go to the next country to find us but who will come all the way from heaven to earth. We need one who is willing to pay not just a finite amount of money, but, at the infinite cost of his own life to bring us into God’s family, for our debt is so much greater. Either as elder brothers or as younger brothers we have rebelled against the father. We deserve alienation, isolation, and rejection. The point of the parable is that forgiveness always involves a price—someone has to pay. There was no way for the younger brother to return to the family unless the older brother bore the cost himself. Our true elder brother paid our debt, on the cross, in our place.

Amen and amen.

PRAY:

God, please guide me in ways to weave sacrifice into my life.

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Week 5 of 5 Sacrifice

1 Comment

  1. Peter Graff

    Paul,
    I for years didn’t understand the meaning of this parable. That is until I realized that that was my life. Jesus saved me. Amen

    Reply

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