Deep Dive into Jesus' Prodigal Story Part 6: A Fool-proof plan?

a mothers love for her adult kids family estrangement parenting adults parenting prodigals prodigal story Sep 19, 2023

Thus far we've taken a deep dive into the cultural setting of our story, and we've studied the 3 characters Jesus introduced to us. Now, the plot thickens. Jesus leaves the father and older brother at home to undoubtedly deal with the disgrace of the fall out, and He takes us on the road with the prodigal.

"Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living.  14 After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing.  15 Then he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.  16 He longed to eat his fill from the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one would give him any. " Luke 15:13-16 HCSB

THIS is where we get the story's well known title as the Prodigal Son.

The younger son wasted his money--his entire inheritance--on "foolish living." Nobody listening thinks much of the prodigal by now. But I did learn this about the son's excessive lifestyle. According to the meaning of Greek words, "loose living" means "spendthrift living." The prodigal wasted his money, spending it foolishly. 

In his book The Cross and the Prodigal, Bailey points out that Jesus used specific words to describe the prodigal's spending habits. The phrase translated, 

"wasted all his money in wild living" in the NLT, used this greek word: 

zon asotos, which translates "loose living" with its basic meaning being "spendthrift living." The idea is that the prodigal lived his life carefree without thinking about the repercussions tomorrow. Bailey explains that this is the only place in the New Testament where this word is used, and that the Arabic translations called it "extravagant living."  

He might not have spent his wealth on wild living as he was accused of doing by his older brother, he might have spent his money on extravagant banquets in hopes of impressing people for the purpose of making connections so that he could live life on his own terms and make a name for himself. 

Of course, we've discovered that when the younger son asked for his inheritance, then spent it at all he was being foolish! But look what Aristotle said about a prodigal no matter what he spent his money on, (thanking Bailey for this nugget): 

"A prodigal means a man who has a single evil quality,

that of wasting his substance."

Wow, wouldn't that describe anyone who lives their lives without Christ at the center? After all, God created us for good work, check out Ephesians 2:10, 

"For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." NLT

Or, in another translation, "For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (NIV--the version I memorized)

If I told my children once, I told them a thousand times, that they were put here on earth to fulfill good work God wanted done, and that the adventure of their lives would be discovering that work then doing it.

I explained that God saw the work that would need doing during the time frame of their lives, and so he carefully designed them so that they would be the only one who could complete that work the way He needed it done.

"What fun! God's made you for something special! And you get to find out what that is! He's got great plans for your life!!" 

That's the up side to this way of thinking. The down side is, that if you decide to disregard God and His good work, and do your own miss it, you become a prodigal with the single evil quality of wasting what you were made for.

You take your unique, made-to-order, one-of-a-kind design and spend it frivolously! 

You waste your substance. 

I wouldn't want to go to heaven and face my Creator knowing I'd wasted my substance.

But back to the prodigal.

A Foreign Land

According to Scripture, the prodigal son left his native land and went to a foreign land. We know that he left his people behind because he ended up taking care of pigs for a pig farmer. Jewish people didn't have pigs on their farms, only Gentiles did. And it wasn't that hard to get to a foreign land. Just across (to the other side) the Sea of Galilee there was a place called Decapolis.

During Jesus' day, Decapolis was an alliance of 10 cities that were inhabited by Gentiles and deeply influenced by Greek culture. Jesus actually performed a few miracles there, and many people turned to faith in Him. But a devout Jew would not go there unless they had to; making it the perfect place to go in order to get away from devout Jewish men! 

The prodigal didn't see that famine coming. 

Luke 15:14 ought to be one that we memorize when we turn 15.

"About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve." 

This is just one of those things. One of those things we don't see coming. One of those things we didn't plan for. One of those things that strips us bare.

Because the prodigal bumped into "one of those things," he ended up in a pig pen.

Jesus was an incredible story teller!! When He put that prodigal in with the pigs, He knew his audience would feel the disgust. Pigs were considered unclean to the Jewish people and anyone who came in contact with a pig was also unclean. The fact that the prodigal landed in a pig pen didn't just carry the connotation that he had an icky job. The fact that he fed pigs meant that he had stooped lower than thinkable for a Jewish man.

But consider this, the prodigal actually chose to feed pigs when he could've gone home. If you've had a prodigal you know how ludicrous it is to watch your son or daughter choose to stay in incomprehensibly awful places when they could simply return home. But just like the prodigal, they have their reasons and they are shackled to them.

More on that in the next part of this story.



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