Which Son are We?: Lenten Bible Study, Luke 15:11-32


During Lent we are exploring the liturgical readings for Lent, trying to learn more about the season of preparation leading up to Easter. What does Lent mean? What does it have to do with my personal faith life? These are the questions we try to wrestle with each week.


Luke 15:11-32

The story of the lost son or the prodigal son is perhaps the most well-known parable that Jesus preaches. We've heard sermons about it, listened to Bible stories about it, and heard it mentioned in popular culture. So what does it have to do with Lent? What is something new that this parable can teach us?

The story begins by telling us there is a man who has two sons and the younger son asks for his inheritance. The Bible is full of stories where the younger son is the favored son (Cain & Abel, Ishmael & Isaac, Esau & Jacob, Joseph & his brothers), it's a theme that would have been familiar to Jesus' audience. The younger son asks for his inheritance. While we may not think much about this, this would have been understood as a sign of disrespect. Inheritance was distributed only when someone died, so for the son to ask his father for his inheritance he would have essentially been treating him as a dead man. He goes off to a Gentile land to live a "deboucherous lifestyle" where he squanders all his wealth. Things get so bad for him that he has to take a job taking care of pigs. Pigs were considered an unclean animal and invading armies would sacrifice pigs on the altar in order to defile a temple. Jewish rabbis wrote that no one should work with swine and that whoever breeds swine is a cursed man. 

We are suppose to get the idea that things are so bad off that he has completely separated himself from his Jewish heritage. He is as far from God and from home as he can be. There in the swine pen he "finds himself" and decides that he will return home to be a servant in his father's house. Before he is even able to tell his father everything his father runs out to meet him, which was considered improper for an adult male to run, and gives him a robe, ring, and sandles. These are public signs that his lost son is once again to be treated as his son, something that was not required because he had already dishonored his father and took his inheritance. The fatted cow is killed, a cow that was probably being saved for a major festival celebration. 

We then see the older brother upset because of how his brother was welcomed back despite his sinful behavior. He complains to the father but his father answers that the return of his brother is a cause for celebration.

So what does this have to do with Lent?

Lent is a season of preparation for Easter. It's a time when we take stock of our relationship with God and see where we need to improve. Perhaps we need to be like the younger son and repent and return to God. Or perhaps we are like the older son and we are bitter and judgmental of others who make a commitment to God. This lenten season ask yourself the question, which son are you, and how do you need to change in your relationship with God?