10 March 2013

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

"But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him." (v. 20)


Today we read one of the most well-known parables in the Gospels and yet it only appears in Luke's Gospel. It is also unusual in its length, which allows space to develop the three main characters in a way that is not typical in other shorter parables. This allows us to put ourselves in the place of each family member and to consider what we would do in their situation.

On Mothering Sunday the striking omission is that the brothers' mother is not mentioned. In a patriarchal society that would not have been a surprise to those listening to Jesus tell this story, but the characteristics displayed by the father would resonate with most mothers. All parents may experience the same rollercoaster of emotions: the worry about a teenage son going off the rails; the tension between parental control and letting a son make mistakes in the hope they might learn from them; the loss felt by the empty nest and the joy felt when the son returns home wiser and more mature.

Parents will also know the importance of treating all children alike. To show favouritism to one risks serious problems developing within the family. We can easily identify with the elder son's anger (verse 28). He has done all that his parents have asked and yet his wayward brother appears to get all the attention. But just as the father takes the initiative with the younger son, running towards him when he was still far away (verse 20), he takes the initiative again with the elder brother, coming outside to plead with him (verse 28). It takes a loving arm around him and a reminder that "you are always with me" (verse 31) to reassure the son of the father's unfailing love.

The chapter starts with reference to those who were listening to the parable (verses 1-2). The tax collectors and sinners could identify with the younger son, whilst the Pharisees and the scribes with the elder son. Jesus is encouraging them and us to see that we are all equally loved by God and to join with him in rejoicing at both the abundant grace of God and the return of those that were lost.

To Ponder

  • Read the parable three times, each time imagining you were either the father or one of the sons. Consider the story from their different perspectives and how you would react in their situation.
  • Think about a relationship that is strained either in your own family or between people you know. How can you help remind them of God's unfailing love?

Bible notes author

Dr Richard Vautrey

Richard Vautrey is a local preacher and church steward in Leeds, and a former vice-president of the Methodist Conference. He works as a GP, is an elected member of both the BMA council and Royal College of GPs council as well as being the deputy chair of the BMA's GP committee.