The first century Palestinian audience, hearing the parable from Jesus’ lips, may have recalled Deuteronomy 21: 18 – 21.
18 “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
The Prodigal Son took his inheritance early, left home, and engaged in reckless living. Or as the KJV version translates it, “riotous living”.
The son repents. He repents and decides to return to his father.
The father receives his son with compassion and with joy. Great joy. The eager father initiates an extravagant celebration.
Summing up. The son takes his share of the family inheritance, leaves his family, and parties until his inheritance is gone. He repents and goes home. On returning, he finds no condemnation, but rather a party celebrating his return. Lost and found.
The father’s attitude, and actions are shocking and beautiful.
The parable then contrasts the father’s attitude of celebration with the older son’s distain.
Prodigal sons and daughters, know that you have a heavenly Father who longs for your return. You have a savior who associated with sinners in order to bring them to repentance. Jesus turned Matthew from being a traitor and tax-collector into a disciple.
Repent, return and rejoice. Before you know it, you will be using your spiritual gifts to bear fruit and help build the very Kingdom of God.
The Prodigal Son image shown is complex. It relies heavily on surreal technique.
The initial reading of the image is disorienting. Note the large unusual rock next to a pool of water, which is set against a dry, barren, landscape.
The lighting is disturbing. The sky suggests a sunset, but the shadows move back into the image rather than forward to the viewer, as your mind expects.
There are multiple ways to interpret the image. The most straight forward is to see it as a depiction of Jesus’ Prodigal Son parable, or more accurately, the Compassionate Father and His Two Lost Sons, as recorded in Luke 15:11-32.
In part 3, I will unpack the Prodigal Son image.