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All the publicans and sinners were drawing near. At the period of his ministry these classes were flocking in great numbers to hear him.
Publicans. Gatherers of the Roman tribute, generally corrupt, universally despised, usually Jews by birth.
Sinners. Persons excommunicated from the synagogues and usually held as outcasts.
Pharisees. The orthodox leaders.
Scribes. Primarily copyists, but also the great theologians.
Eateth with them. That he should be on social terms with sinners the Pharisees could not overlook.
What man of you, having a hundred sheep? Three parables spoken in succession to show how cordially God "receiveth sinners." The shepherd who loseth one sheep out of the flock of a hundred will leave the rest and go to seek the straying one.
Layeth it on his shoulders. A common custom with Eastern shepherds.
Rejoicing. So every servant of God should rejoice at the return of a sinner.
There shall be joy in heaven. The Father rejoices and the Son and the angels with him.
Over one sinner that repenteth. That "comes to himself," decides to leave off sin and to serve God. Repentance means a change of mind or heart.
Than over ninety and nine just persons. Over those who are already in Christ, safe, and need no repentance. It is the saving of the lost that brings the greatest joy.
What woman having ten pieces of silver? It is the custom of the East to have a string of coins for a bracelet, necklace, or headdress. The joy of finding the lost piece again illustrates the joy of heaven over the lost sinner.
Light a candle. Because Eastern rooms, often only lighted by the doors, are very dark.
The Parable of the Lost Son. The two preceding parables represent Christ seeking for the lost; this, the sinner seeking for the Father's house; all three, the rejoicing over repentance.
A certain man had two sons. There is something in this inimitable parable which goes straight to every human heart. It is almost impossible to refuse an entrance to it. It storms the strongest fortress of the soul, by its appeal to the latent sensibility to impression, that dormant or sepulchered humanness which underlies in every man his surface of passion or pride; it makes its way to the sympathy of the rudest, and surprises the most callous into the emotion which finds its best relief in tears. The child loves to hear its simple and affecting story, and many a criminal whom crime has done its worst to harden has been subdued by some stray hearing of its experience, it seemed so like his own.-- Punshon. In this parable the father is the Heavenly Father; the elder son, the self-righteous, in this case the Pharisees and scribes; the younger son, the sinful, in this case the publicans and sinners.
Give me the portion of thy substance. A selfish and unfilial demand, suitable to the sinner who demands of God to give, but returns no gratitude.
He divided unto them his living. The elder would receive two shares and the younger one (Deuteronomy 21:17).
Into a far country. Wandered far away from the Father's house, from God.
Wasted his substance. All do in that far country. The worldly life is a wasted life. It is more baneful to waste our spiritual opportunities and resources than to waste earthly goods.
There arose a mighty famine. There is always one afar from God. The world cannot satisfy the soul.
He began to be in want. Many a lost one who has wasted all feels the want so deeply as to destroy his life. Byron is said to "have died of wretchedness."
To feed swine. The lowest possible occupation for a Jew.
With the husks. The pods of the carob tree. The husks of animal pleasures cannot satisfy the soul.
When he came to himself. Sin is an infatuation, a craze. When the blinded eyes of the soul are opened no man is content to abide in sin; that is, in destruction.
How many hired servants. The son was now himself a hired servant; so are all sinners, and the service is a hard one.
I will arise and go. This resolve is repentance, the change of purpose and heart. He is led to it by his sense of need, the burden of sin.
Father, I have sinned. His change of heart, or repentance, must be followed by confession.
Am no more worthy. His own claims of worth are gone. He has proved worthless. He is willing to take the humblest place in his father's house. Humility and consecration follow genuine repentance.
He arose and came to his father. The sinner comes by faith, repentance, and obedience to Christ. The spirit must come. To come he must turn, leave the far country, sinful associations, and enter into spiritual union with Christ by baptism (Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:3-Numbers :).
His father . . . was moved with compassion. No sternness, no need of prayers; the father no sooner saw the wanderer coming than he rushed to meet him. How often is it written of Christ, He had compassion. So, too, of the Father for the penitent sinner; the father does not even wait for the confession the son had resolved to make. Love cannot wait when it recognizes the purpose.
The father said. He interrupted the confession of the prodigal.
Bring forth the best robe. He had returned in rags. The best robe is the white robe of the righteousness of Christ.
A ring on his hand. A ring with a seal was a symbol of authority, of sonship.
Shoes on his feet. Servants went barefoot, but the shoes were a symbol of freedom.
Bring the fatted calf. For a feast of welcome. To make such preparations was common in the simple life of the East. See Genesis 18:6-Ruth :.
For my son was dead, and is alive. See Ephesians 2:1-Joshua :. It was a spiritual resurrection.
They began to be merry. Gladness should be manifested by all saints at the repentance of sinners.
Now his elder son. The Pharisees had complained of Jesus that "he receiveth sinners" (Luke 15:2). So the elder son complains that the father had welcomed the prodigal.
Music and dancing. In the dance of Judea the sexes did not intermingle. It was usually performed by hired professional dancers.
He was angry. So the Pharisees were with Christ for receiving sinners. So, too, the eminently respectable self-righteous in the church often are still when the publicans and sinners, the despised and outcast, are converted.
His father . . . entreated him. So God in Christ still entreats all such to join in the welcome of the impenitent. It shows his long suffering.
Neither transgressed I. Here is the very spirit of Pharisaism, a self-righteous spirit. His charges show while nominally with the father, he was far away from him in spirit.
Son. The father pleads with the envious brother and tries to bring him to a better frame of mind, as Christ pleads with Israel.
All that I have is thine. "If a son, then an heir, and a joint heir with Christ."
This thy brother. If a son, then the returned sinner is his brother. Unless he, too, can welcome him, then he is the lost son. "Those who object to all use of fiction must explain, as best they may, this story, for such it is. There is not even an application attached to it; the reader is left to make that for himself. As a representation of redeeming love it has been well called the Gospel in the Gospel. In comparison with others, it is the Crown and Pearl of all parables."-- Stier.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Original work done by Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Johnson, Barton W. "Commentary on Luke 15". "People's New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16