In this episode, we begin to delve into what is commonly known as the parable of the prodigal son. We take a hard look at the younger son, who is defiant, selfish, and cruel to his father. His wild ways eventually lead him to desperation with only one hope - returning in disgrace to the father he had so callously fled from.
This is a well-know parable, but we dig in deep to see how we were all the younger son at some point in our lives. And we all have much to learn from him!
Episode 97 – The Defiant, Wild child
Welcome back! Last week, we started a series called Dysfunctional Children, Functional God where we are delving into the parable of the Prodigal Son. If you remember, last week we put the parable into context and looked at how this parable is the third in a series Jesus told about being lost – lost sheep, lost coin, and then this one – lost children. And I say children, because although we are going to look at this week, the son that everyone considers the lost one, we will see in the next episode, he wasn’t the only one lost.
Chris, my husband and I like to walk around our neighborhood looking at the mountains that surround where we live. About a mile from our house is a cemetery. One day, recently, we were walking through this cemetary and we were just looking at all the stones, reading names and dates – there were some who had died as far back as the early 1800’s and some who died just this past year. Some died as infants, and some lived well into their 90s. We noticed something else – the graves some were well taken care of with fresh flowers, and some that were overgrown from neglect. There was even a few graves with just a marker, nothing written on it at all.
That seems a strange story for you to tell. I’ve never known you to spend a lot of time thinking about cemeteries.
No, I normally don’t at all, but maybe it was doing this series that had me thinking philosophically. I wondered how many of the people in cemetery died lost. Did they have people who loved them, or did they die alone and unknown to anyone.
That makes me think of a video I saw about Peter Stefan, a funeral director in Worcester, MA and the scandal surrounding his funeral home. He had his license suspended in 2019 when authorities found nearly a dozen decomposing and unidentified bodies in his possession. Nobody missed these bodies because nobody knew who they were. They were unknown. As the video said, it is not uncommon for morgues to have abandoned, indigent, and unclaimed bodies in them, many of which languish in morgues for weeks or months.
So what happens to these unknown, unclaimed bodies? In the United States, when a body goes unclaimed it becomes the responsibility of the government. Because of the Anatomy Acts, some states allow medical schools to dissect unclaimed bodies, after which the school cremates the body at its expense. There is no standard practice to try and find out if these unknown people are indeed known to someone. Laws about this vary by state, county, and city. Although most states require that the government make at least a good faith effort to locate next of kin. Some states consider a few days sufficient for a search, while others say the body must be held for a month and can only be buried or cremated if the kin is not found in that amount’ of time.
As one expert in the area of unclaimed bodies said, “Governments don’t have an emotional interest in the unclaimed dead. That’s not mean or uncaring, it’s just a fact. In Biblical times, and before refrigeration or embalming, the dead had to be buried as quickly as possible. All bodies went into the same burial ground. If you were part of the community, you were buried together. If you were a stranger travelling through or unknown, you got the outskirts of the burial ground. Cemeteries, as we know them, started to appear in the U.S. in the 1620’s. Cemeteries were for those who had the money to bury their loved one. But if you were poor, or if the deceased was unknown and unclaimed, they were buried in a potter’s field. And what we see with the cemetery vs. the potter’s field is the drawing of a distinction between those who belonged and those who didn’t belong.
So why are we spending so much time talking about the dead when our subject is the prodigal son, and specifically in this episode, the younger brother? Chris, I think the last thing you said gets at the heart of the matter. The distinction between who belongs and who doesn’t belong. As profoundly sad as it is to die unknown and unclaimed by any human loved ones, it is downright tragic to die and not be known by Jesus. It’s the very definition of lost!
Makes me think of the verses in Matthew 25 at the final judgment where Jesus tell all those who are known by Him, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” And to those who are not known by Him, He says, “‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” So let’s start digging into the younger brother and pull all of this together.
Let’s start by reading Luke 15:11 – 12, “And he (Jesus) said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.” There’s a lot going on in these 2 verses. Let’s start by putting this in context. As we said last week, there were different groups listening, and something in Jesus’ parables would have hit everyone of them. These 2 verses would have hit those listed at the very beginning of the chapter. Luke 15:1 says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.”
We talked last week about who the people listening to Jesus were. The “Sinners” as they are called in 15:1 is not referring to just people who sin – that would be everyone. Here’s a reminder at how the ESV Study Bible defines this “sinners.” “Pharisees would have regarded as sinners anyone who failed to keep God’s law as they interpreted it, and the term here seems to reflect a commonly understood meaning by which it included both people guilty of publicly known sin and others who did not keep the strict purity requirements of the Pharisees.
So the term sinners was used by the religious establishment of that time to describe those they regarded as outcasts not only because they were actually open sinners but also because they did not follow the pharisaical legalistic traditions. In contrast the Pharisees regarded those who did follow all of their mounting “laws” were considered “righteous.” This is an important point to remember for this parable.
No surprise, Jesus knew all this and part of what He is doing with these three parables is tearing that belief to shreds. Okay. So we tell you all this because as Jesus started telling this parable, the Pharisees probably would have been nodding recognizing the younger son as a “sinner.” Just a quick reminder of what the first 2 lines say, “And he (Jesus) said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.”
So what is going on here? The younger son saying to his dad give me my share of your estate means he is looking for his inheritance. In essence, he is saying to his father, I wish you were dead. The only value you have to me is the money I have coming to me when you die. I’m not interested in a relationship with you. I don’t need you. In a culture where elders, and especially your parents, were to be honored, this would be the ultimate smack in the face to this father. Spoiler alert – the younger son represents every person before they come to Jesus. And we will see this more and more as we go through, but Chris, we point this out, because of what the younger son says to his father here.
Right. And of course, most of us probably know that the Father represent God – and we will get to that more in later weeks. But as we look this week, at the younger son, like you said, he represents all of us who are dead in our sins. And what he says to his father mirrors what Romans 3:11, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” In Psalm 10:4, “The wicked, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek Him. All his thoughts are, “There is no God.” And Isaiah 9:13, “Yet the people do not turn back to Him who struck them, Nor do they seek the Lord of hosts.” So we have a son who has no interest in a relationship with his father and wishes his father would go away (essentially die) and just give him what he thinks he’s entitled to so he can live life exactly as he wants.
He wants what he considers the “good stuff” (money) from his father, but doesn’t want his father. Chris, as those verses you read show, this younger son’s attitude it the quintessential attitude of an unbeliever. They are happy to take the good stuff God gives – beautiful weather, a good income, a nice place to live, friends, etc., but don’t want anything to do with God and His commands for their life. In the younger son’s eyes, his father was an obstruction to what he wanted. He wanted the father to get out of his way – keep his advice, rules, relationship – and get out of the way and let him live his life on his terms. He wanted freedom.
And this father gives his son exactly what he asks for. He divides his estate up and gives the younger son his share. I think we need to pause and realize that what this father did cost him greatly. He should have had that money as a resource to use for the rest of his life, but now, its gone. So at a great expense to himself, the father gives the younger son what he wants and he leaves his son to himself and to his greatly desired freedom from his father.
Let’s continue with Luke 15:13 – 16, “Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.”
There is a ton to unpack in these 3 verses. First, notice the son goes to a far country. He wants to get as far away from the watching eye of his father as possible. He wants to be free! But, as he soon finds out, freedom from the father isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Without any guidance from his father, he blows all his money on basically stupid and destructive things. I’m sure having money and being able to do whatever you wanted felt good at first. You can almost imagine the son in the beginning drinking, partying, maybe hiring prostitutes thinking this is the life! This is what being under my father’s roof and rule kept me from.
And don’t we all know unbelievers who think living under the commands of God is stifling and suffocating. Don’t we see them reveling in their sinful lifestyles, throwing it in the face of all watching? Don’t we see some who are almost drunk on the idea of flipping off the commands of God? Don’t we hear them say that they have found true freedom in being who they want to be without the restraining Hand of Scripture? Don’t we even sometimes contemplate if not living by God’s commands would be easier and more freeing? The son chose a path that he believed was better for him and would ultimately bring him happiness.
And as we see that wasn’t the case at all – not even a little. After living destructively for a period of time, he runs out of money and there’s a famine in the land. Here’s something I love about this story. Even if the son had been thrifty with his money, a famine in the land would have put him in need, but at least he would have had some resources to live off of. But after everything is gone, the severe famine hits. He was in a foreign land alone, away from his father, no money, no home, nothing. He had nowhere to go and no support or resources to rely on. So whether he was reckless or somewhat wise with his money, being apart from his father put him in the position of need, but that need is magnified by the fact that when he had nothing left of his inheritance, and probably thought things were bad, things get much worse. And, of course, the severe famine didn’t “just happen.”
We should ask ourselves why did Jesus include this famine in the parable? He could have said the son ran out of money was starving and hired himself out. But He includes this famine that overtakes the land. I think the point is pretty obvious. Like you said, Chris, even if the son had been smarter with his money, the severe famine put him in a position of need, but the fact that it happens after he has squandered all he had, puts him in dire need! I love what James-Fausset-Brown say on this, “when he had spent all … a mighty famine—a mysterious providence holding back the famine till he was in circumstances to feel it in all its rigor. Thus, like Jonah, whom the storm did not overtake till on the mighty deep at the mercy of the waves, does the sinner feel as if "the stars in their courses were fighting against" him (Jud 5:20).
in want—the first stage of his bitter experience, and preparation for a change.”
And we will get to the change he is preparing to have in a minute, but first, we need to notice what he is reduced to doing because of his need. He is feeding pigs for a foreigner. First, the fact that a Jewish boy from a prominent family has had to hire himself out to a foreigner is humiliating enough, but add to it that he is feeding pigs. Pigs were unclean to the Jewish people. Deut 14:8 says, “The pig, because it divides the hoof but does not chew the cud, it is unclean for you. You shall not eat any of their flesh nor touch their carcasses.” Lev. 11:35 goes even further, “Everything, moreover, on which part of their carcass may fall becomes unclean; an oven or a stove shall be smashed; they are unclean and shall continue as unclean to you.”Pigs were not only not to be eaten, they weren’t to be touched.
So he shouldn’t have been taking care of these pigs, but in a further illustration of how low he has sunk, he’s wishing he could eat the slop the pigs are eating! Like James-Fausset-Brown say, his circumstances have nudged him that he needs a change. When we look at this in light of the younger son being all of us before coming to Christ, we might think this parable shows God is cruel to us in our unbelief state.
But it’s actually the opposite. As Psalm 119:155 says, “Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek Your statutes.” And of course, the familiar Prov 14:12, “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way to death.” Sometimes, God has to bring us to rock bottom to break us. And it certainly does break the younger son. Luke 15:17 – 19 tells us, “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’
And, of course, the whole point of His breaking us is so He can rebuild us into the person we were meant to be – His son or daughter. Chris, you know that we were heavily involved in wrestling because our son wrestled all his life – collegiate wrestling, not WWE wrestling. Anyway, they had a two week summer camp. The first several days, they worked on breaking you. Very similar to what they do in boot camp. And the purpose is once you are broken, they can rebuild you. At this wrestling camp, it was to build you into a great wrestler, as we said, the military does the same thing with boot camp to build you into a proficient solider.
And this breaking and rebuilding doesn’t work unless the person realizes at some point that he or she needs the rebuilding. That being rebuilt has a distinct advantage over their current broken state. This younger son would never have considered humiliating himself before his father, his brother, the servants, and the whole town unless he knew that it would be worth it.
Here’s what John Calvin says about this, “ It must also be observed, that the hope of bettering his condition, if he returned to his father, gave this young man courage to repent; for no severity of punishment will soften our depravity, or make us displeased with our sins, till we perceive some advantage. As this young man, therefore, is induced by confidence in his father's kindness to seek reconciliation, so the beginning of our repentance must be an acknowledgment of the mercy of God to excite in us favorable hopes.”
This part of the parable is perfect example of what happens when we run from God. If we decide we want to take the blessings He has given us and use them to be “in the world.” When we do that, even if we have endless money, fame, friends, or other material wealth at our disposal, it will always end in our future being no better than pig slop. That is the reality and misery for anyone running from Jesus – which is all of us until the Holy Spirit gets hold of us and regenerates our hearts.
We started this episode talking about those who have died who were unknown by others. And as we said, as sad as it is to be unknown by other humans while we walk this earth, that is nothing compared to being unknown by God. As Matthew 7:21 – 23 says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
We end this episode on the younger son with Luke 15:20, “And he arose and came to his father.”
The only reason the younger son was able, or had any inclination at all to go and throw himself on the mercy of his father, was because He belonged to his father. He was one of his father’s own. To be sure, there were some rich men in the land he was in. Maybe even some who were pretty generous. But they were strangers to him, and he to them. By this point, he is filthy, smelly, and probably pretty unpleasant to be around. You can imagine a very different scenario if in his present condition, he had knocked on the door of someone who didn’t know him. He probably would have had the door slammed in his face, or had the police called on him and been drug away to prison.
But he rose up and went to his father – the one he belonged to, the one to whom he was known. And that’s where we are going to end today. Thanks for tuning in! If you missed the Christmas in July event we were a part of last week, you can catch all the posts and videos, including the cover reveal of our new book, The Bible Blueprint – A Guide to Better Understanding the Bible from Genesis to Revelation on our website, FB pages, and MeWe pages. Videos are also available on our YouTube and Rumble channels.
And don’t forget coming up in 3 weeks is our 100th episode. You can still enter the giveaway by submitting a question to us a [email protected] or by reviewing this podcast and sending us a screenshot of the review along with the platform it is posted on. Have a blessed day!
 Stedman, Ray. "Message: God and the Rebellious (Luke 15:11-24)Ray." RayStedman.org. Accessed July 09, 2021. https://www.raystedman.org/thematic-studies/parables/god-and-the-rebellious.
 TalkDeath, and TalkDeath. "This Is What Happens to Unclaimed Bodies in America." TalkDeath. June 30, 2020. Accessed July 09, 2021. https://www.talkdeath.com/this-is-what-happens-to-unclaimed-bodies-in-america/.
 Solomon, Adina. "State-funded Funerals: What Happens to the Unclaimed Dead?" HowStuffWorks. February 22, 2018. Accessed July 09, 2021. https://people.howstuffworks.com/culture-traditions/funerals/state-funded-funerals-what-happens-to-unclaimed-dead.htm.