The parable of the prodigal son -Luke 15:11-32
“I know of no more beautiful story in all literature than that found in the fifteenth chapter of Luke. It is the story of a repentant son and a forgiving father. It is the story of a son who wasted his inheritance in riotous living, rejecting his father’s counsel, spurning those who loved him. When he had spent all, he was hungry and friendless, and ‘when he came to himself’ (Luke 15:17), he turned back to his father, who, on seeing him afar off, ‘ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him’ (Luke 15:20).
“I ask you to read that story. Every parent ought to read it again and again. It is large enough to encompass every household, and enough larger than that to encompass all mankind, for are we not all prodigal sons and daughters who need to repent and partake of the forgiving mercy of our Heavenly Father and then follow His example?” (Gordon B Hinckley, “Of You It Is Required to Forgive,” Ensign, June 1991, 5)
The parable of the prodigal son follows the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin and should perhaps be called the parable of the lost son.
A certain man had two sons (verse 11)
Note the increasing scale of the losses in the parables in this chapter: in the parable of the lost sheep one sheep out of a hundred strayed, in the parable of the lost coins one in ten was lost but in the parable of the prodigal son one in two is lost. One per cent or ten per cent may be bearable losses but fifty per cent is tragic. Similarly having half restored again would be cause for celebration.
Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me (verse 12)
It seems that there had been a prior discussion or agreement that one day each of the sons would be entitled to an inheritance. Traditionally this would not have been until the death of the father. The younger son decides that he wants his now.
Wasted his substance with riotous living (verse 13)
Not only did he waste the money, he sinned in the process.
A might famine (verse 14)
“Like the errant son of the Savior’s parable, we have come to “a far country” (Luke 15:13) separated from our premortal home. Like the prodigal, we share in a divine inheritance, but by our sins we squander a portion thereof and experience a “mighty famine” (Luke 15:14) of spirit. Like him, we learn through painful experience that worldly pleasures and pursuits are of no more worth than the husks of corn that swine eat. We yearn to be reconciled with our Father and return to his home.” (Bruce D Porter, General Conference, October 1995)
To feed swine (verse 15)
There is evidence here that the ‘far country’ to which he went was a Gentile country. How humiliating for a Jew to have to feed these unclean animals.
“The prodigal began to be in want and “went and joined himself to a [certain] citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.” (Luke 15:15.) Now he was not only destitute, but also forced to take the most humble kind of work. In such great poverty was he that “he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.” (Luke 15:16.) The Savior is undoubtedly showing us the contrast and the depths of poverty and need to which he had sunk. He had indulged with all who came when he had money. Now not even one of his supposed friends so much as gave him a husk of corn so that he might feed at least as well as the swine.” (Vaughn J Featherstone, General Conference, October 1982)
He would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him (verse 16)
“The word “husks” with us denotes the outward covering of grain. In this there is little nourishment, and it is evident that this is not intended here; but the word used here denotes not only “husks,” but also leguminous plants, as beans, etc. It is also used to denote the fruit of a tree called the “carob or kharub-tree,” which is common in Ionia, Syria, and Rhodes. The tree is more bushy and thick set than the apple tree, and the leaves are larger and of a much darker green. The following is Dr. Thomson’s description of the fruit of this tree (“The Land and the Book,” vol. i. p. 22): “The ‘husks’ – a mistranslation – are fleshy pods, somewhat like those of the locust-tree, from six to ten inches long and one broad, laid inside with a gelatinous substance, not wholly unpleasant to the taste when thoroughly ripe. I have seen large orchards of this kharub in Cyprus, where it is still the food which the swine do eat. The kharub is often called John’s Bread, and also Locust-tree, from a mistaken idea about the food of the Baptist in the wilderness.” (Barnes Notes on the Bible)
“I am satisfied that there are thousands across the world who in their loneliness and hunger for truth are crying out for help… And in addition to these there is another group who are members of the Church in name, but who have left, and who now in their hearts long to return, but do not know how and are too timid to try. They, too, in moments of quiet reflection, ask, ‘Why am I here? Why am I so lost? Please, please help me find my way.”
“As I think of them I think also of one of the most beautiful stories ever told. (quotes Luke 15:11-24.)
“To you, my brethren and sisters, who have taken your spiritual inheritance and left, and now find an emptiness in your lives, the way is open for your return. Note the words of the parable of the Prodigal Son: ‘And when he came to himself.’ Have you not also reflected on your condition and circumstances, and longed to return?
“The boy in the parable wanted only to be a servant in his father’s house, but his father, seeing him afar off, ran to meet him and kissed him, put a robe on his back, a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet, and had a feast prepared for him. So it will be with you. If you will take the first timid step to return, you will find open arms to greet you and warm friends to make you welcome.
“I think I know why some of you left. You were offended by a thoughtless individual who injured you, and you mistook his actions as representative of the Church. Or you may have moved from an area where you were known to an area where you were largely alone, and there grew up with only little knowledge of the Church. Or you may have been drawn to other company or habits which you felt were incompatible with association in the Church. Or you may have felt yourself wiser in the wisdom of the world than those of your Church associates, and with some air of disdain, withdrawn yourself from their company. I am not here to dwell on the reasons. I hope you will not. Put the past behind you. Said the prophet Isaiah in another age, with words that fit our own:
‘Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
Learn to do well. …
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land.’ (Isa. 1:16-19.)” (Gordon B Hinckley, “Everything to Gain-Nothing to Lose,”Ensign, Nov. 1976, 95-96)
He came to himself (verse 17)
This is the turning point in the story.
“He remembered who he was, realized what he had been missing, and began to desire the blessings freely available in his father’s house.
Throughout our lives, whether in times of darkness, challenge, sorrow, or sin, we may feel the Holy Ghost reminding us that we are truly sons and daughters of a caring Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we may hunger for the sacred blessings that only He can provide. At these times we should strive to come to ourselves and come back into the light of our Savior’s love.” (Robert D Hales, General Conference, April 2012)
I have sinned against heaven (verse 18)
So begins his repentance.
“It is significant that he acknowledged his sin against heaven, for there really is a heaven and a merciful and a just God who reigns there. He revealed a divine plan that includes the Final Judgment by His Son, who “employeth no servant there,” and where we will all stand someday (2 Ne. 9:41).” (Jay E Jensen, General Conference, April 2000)
And am no more worthy to be called thy son (verse 19)
He had further no rights for an inheritance, and his conduct had caused distress to his family. He was willing to earn his keep by serving the family (which would have meant serving his older brother, too).
When he was yet a great way off (verse 20)
“Do we understand our Heavenly Father’s anxiousness at our every effort to return to him? Even when we are still a great way off, he welcomes our return. We experience joy as the love of our Savior assures us that we can yet be clean, that we will one day be home again. This happiness comes only through repentance. As we leave wrongdoing behind and exercise faith in Jesus Christ, we receive a remission of our sins. We sense that our Savior is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” (Neil L Andersen, “The Joy of Becoming Clean,”Ensign, Apr. 1995, 51)
“But we must take people—boys and girls, men and women—where they are, as they are, in the imperfect conditions that so widely exist, in the personal imperfections which are universal. We cannot escape responsibility for our families and others whom we might touch, nor ever cease pulling for them and praying for them and trying to help them. If they make wrong decisions, follow the false programs that many of their peers pursue, still we will love them and suffer with them and work with them and wait for them, even as the father in the Lord’s parable waited for the prodigal who finally came to his senses and headed home: “When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20.) We will watch and pray, even as the Lord himself waits with godly mercy, as He declared through His prophet 2,700 years ago: “And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you.” (Isa. 30:18.)” (Marion D Hanks, General Conference, October 1982)
And am no more worthy to be called thy son (verse 21)
The son repeats his confession – but now that he is in the presence of his father he cannot even bring himself to suggest that he be a hired servant.
Put a ring on his hand (verse 22)
“But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.” (Luke 15:20–22.) The long journey probably had been made with little or no footwear, so the robe and shoes were necessities. But the father also had a ring brought for his son’s hand. This was an unexpected gift, an expression of the gratitude of the father for the son’s return.” (Vaughn J Featherstone, General Conference, October 1982)
The fatted calf (verse 23)
Meat was eaten primarily on festivals, and calves would be fattened for such feasts.
For this my son was dead (verse 24)
The son could have been ‘dead’ in two ways:
- The father may have heard of the famine and feared that his son was dead
- He was ‘dead’ because he had left his family and gone to live with the Gentiles.
His elder son (verse 25)
“…being caught up in this younger son’s story, we can miss, if we are not careful, the account of an elder son, for the opening line of the Savior’s account reads, ‘A certain man had two sons’-and He might have added, ‘both of whom were lost and both of whom needed to come home.’
“The younger son has returned, a robe has been placed on his shoulders and a ring on his finger, when the older son comes on the scene. He has been dutifully, loyally working in the field, and now he is returning. The language of parallel journeys home, though from very different locations, is central to this story.” (Jeffrey R Holland, “The Other Prodigal,” Ensign, May 2002, 62)
Asked what these things meant (verse 26)
The older sons comes in from the field where he has been working. This seems a little strange, normally a servant would have been sent to get him. But it is as if the older son found out about the party by accident. Some commentators say this implies the son was out of touch with his father, estranged in attitude or too addicted to work.
Received him safe and sound (verse 27)
The father has ‘received’ the son ie welcomed him back.
He was angry (verse 28)
“This son is not so much angry that the other has come home as he is angry that his parents are so happy about it. Feeling unappreciated and perhaps more than a little self-pity, this dutiful son-and he is wonderfully dutiful-forgets for a moment that he has never had to know filth or despair, fear or self-loathing. He forgets for a moment that every calf on the ranch is already his and so are all the robes in the closet and every ring in the drawer. He forgets for a moment that his faithfulness has been and always will be rewarded.
“No, he who has virtually everything, and who has in his hardworking, wonderful way earned it, lacks the one thing that might make him the complete man of the Lord he nearly is. He has yet to come to the compassion and mercy, the charitable breadth of vision to see that this is not a rival returning. It is his brother…
“Certainly this younger brother had been a prisoner-a prisoner of sin, stupidity, and a pigsty. But the older brother lives in some confinement, too. He has, as yet, been unable to break out of the prison of himself. He is haunted by the green-eyed monster of jealousy. He feels taken for granted by his father and disenfranchised by his brother, when neither is the case. He has fallen victim to a fictional affront. As such he is like Tantalus of Greek mythology-he is up to his chin in water, but he remains thirsty nevertheless. One who has heretofore presumably been very happy with his life and content with his good fortune suddenly feels very unhappy simply because another has had some good fortune as well.
“Who is it that whispers so subtly in our ear that a gift given to another somehow diminishes the blessings we have received? Who makes us feel that if God is smiling on another, then He surely must somehow be frowning on us? You and I both know who does this-it is the father of all lies. It is Lucifer…
“…Brothers and sisters, I testify that no one of us is less treasured or cherished of God than another. I testify that He loves each of us-insecurities, anxieties, self-image, and all. He doesn’t measure our talents or our looks; He doesn’t measure our professions or our possessions. He cheers on every runner, calling out that the race is against sin, not against each other. I know that if we will be faithful, there is a perfectly tailored robe of righteousness ready and waiting for everyone, ‘robes … made … white in the blood of the Lamb.’ (Rev. 7:14) May we encourage each other in our effort to win that prize is my earnest prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. (Jeffrey R Holland, “The Other Prodigal,” Ensign, May 2002, 63-64)
Neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment (verse 29)
“Similarly, in the plan of salvation, the Firstborn of the Father is sinless and without spot. Yet there is a vital difference. In the parable, the eldest son is jealous of the attention paid to the returning prodigal. In the plan of salvation, however, the eldest son makes possible the return of the prodigals.” (Bruce D Porter, General Conference, October 1995)
But as soon as this thy son was come (verse 30)
Note that it is ‘thy son’ and not ‘my brother’.
All that I have is thine (verse 31)
“In the impressive parable of the Prodigal Son the Lord taught us a remarkable lesson. This squanderer lived but for today. He spent his life in riotous living. He disregarded the commandments of God. His inheritance was expendable, and he spent it. He was never to enjoy it again, as it was irretrievably gone. No quantity of tears or regrets or remorse could bring it back. Even though his father forgave him and dined him and clothed him and kissed him, he could not give back to the profligate son that which had been dissipated. But the other brother, who had been faithful, loyal, righteous and constant, retained his inheritance, and the father reassured him: ‘All that I have is thine.’
“…the father might have said something like this: ‘Son, this is your estate-all of it. Everything is yours. Your brother has squandered his part. You have everything. He has nothing but employment and Our forgiveness and Our love. We can well afford to receive him graciously. We will not give him, your estate nor can we give him back all that he has foolishly squandered.’ He did say: ‘For this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. . .’ And he said also: ‘Son, thou art ever with me and all that I have is thine.’
“Is there not significance in that statement of the father? Does not that signify eternal life?” (The Miracle of Forgiveness [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], .308-309)
It was meet that we should make merry (verse 32)
“Seeing a prodigal return. To be a small part of seeing that happen is a marvelous thing. To see someone, in the words of scripture, who comes to himself and resolves that ‘I will … go to my father’ [Luke 15:18] is a marvelous journey for someone to make. The joy comes in seeing someone who has been crusty and difficult to deal with become more meek, or to see a family really come to love and appreciate each other. Those are the real miracles. … The most lasting miracles are the miracles of transformation in people’s lives. These give one much joy, and while we can’t cause these to happen, the Lord lets us, at times, be instrumental to that process.” (Neal A Maxwell in Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, “The Incomparable Blessings of the Priesthood,” Ensign, Oct. 1997, 49)