Parable of the Two Sons: Which Son Was Really Lost?


I find that most of us read the Parable of the Two Sons in Luke 15 through the filter of years of tradition rather than good interpretation. Maybe it’s because our Bibles have a subtitle “Parable of the Prodigal Son” at the top of that section. Unfortunate!

Before we dive into this parable, let’s start with a few clarifying statements:

  • There were two lost sons, and one gracious father.
  • The word “prodigal” (which is not in the parable) means “reckless or extravagant spending.”
  • One son was “found” by the end of the parable, one stayed lost—guess which one!
  • The older son was the focus of the parable, and represents the religious leaders.

Where Jesus really gets His point across to His listeners is not when the younger brother falls into sin, or even when that young man comes to his senses. The clincher of the story comes when Jesus tells the response of the older son to the father’s gracious receiving back of the younger brother!

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” (Luke 15:28-30 NIV)

The main message? Missed grace!

The older brother completely missed his father’s grace. What characterized the older brother characterizes many of us in the Body of Christ:

  1. We forget that we are saved by grace … alone.
  2. We believe we have our act together more than we do—or at least we behave that way.
  3. We look down on other people based on their behaviors or appearances rather than remembering that we don’t know their whole story. This leads to judgment without compassion.
  4. Out of judgment, we distance ourselves from those who are unlike us. Instead, we need to cross barriers and boundaries to embody and speak the Good News in friendships with lost people, and those different than us. We have a good model for this in Jesus!

If we are really honest, each of us carry some of these characteristics as well. In my next four posts, I want to reveal why I believe that our current U.S. culture has a gross misunderstanding of the Gospel, Jesus, and what it means to be a “Christian.” And it all parallels the very message Jesus was trying to get across to the religious people of His day. The religious establishment of the first century missed grace, just as many of us do today.

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