The Story of the Wayward Son

Luke 15:11-32

Jesus told a story about a father who had two sons.  The elder son, knowing that he would be heir to his father’s fortune when his father died remained close to home and worked hard for the good of the family.  The younger son, whom we shall call Jorim, or Jori for short, had an adventurous spirit and enjoyed having a good time with his friends.  The father loved both of his sons very much and attended to their needs throughout their childhood.  More than anything he wanted to appear to be fair and to treat them equally.

     Because of Jori’s outgoing personality he interacted more with the father than did the elder son, who was serious-minded and a steady worker.  The father was aware that his younger needed to mature and become more serious about the work of the farm.   Nevertheless it was difficult for the father to resist the impulsive demands of this charming younger son.

      When he had completed his schooling and was ready to take his place in the world Jori looked around the farm and the nearby village.  He had had a great time while growing up and had many friends with whom he had shared enjoyment.  Nevertheless, during his school days Jori heard about other lands and other peoples.  There was a large world outside his father’s farm and the village.  He chaffed at the idea of having to spend the rest of his days in these surroundings, doing the same, boring work, day after day.   He had never seen that wide world that he knew was beyond the village walls and beyond his father’s large farm.

    One day he went to his father and said, “Father, please give to me now the part of your holdings that will come to me after your death.  Let me use the money now so that I may see the world and grow wise in it’s ways before I settle down to a life of service and hard work.”

    The father was aware that this was not the wisest choice that Jori could make, but it was difficult for him to control his son’s infectious zest for life.  The father knew that if he forced Jori to remain on the farm, continuing to do the hard work demanded at that time, that Jori would begin to resent him and his elder son.   Jori would become embittered about his limited experiences on the family farm.

     Therefore the father reluctantly calculated how much the younger son’s inheritance would be and gave him a bag with the money that the inheritance would be worth.  Jori grasped the money bag with great joy, tucked it into his waist band and went whistling down the country road to town.  That first night he and his friends in town had a great party with eating and drinking, dancing and merriment.  The next day Jori bought a donkey to ride to the town of Jaffa on the sea coast.  There he bought a ticket to what the Bible calls “a far country”.  This was probably Italy or Spain. Both of these countries were a very far distance from the country of Israel.  The journey by sea took many days before the ship docked at the harbor.

     Jori had a great time.   He partied, he sang and he danced with the new friends he met.  He met many interesting new people and gave them parties with the most expensive entertainment.  After all, Jori was a rich young man with the money that his father had given him.

   One morning Jori awakened very late in the morning since he had been having a blast the night before with eating, drinking and dancing.  He reached into his money pouch and discovered that there were only a few mites, or pennies, left.  What could he do with a few pennies?  He could not pay for another party for his friends.  He could not pay the rent for his room at the lodging house.  Neither could he buy enough food to keep him alive for very long.

     No matter.  Jori had lots of friends.  They would throw parties for him just as he had been doing for them for many months.  He pulled on his clothes, gathered his belongings and placed them into a pouch.  He slung the pouch over his shoulder and went to the home of one of his new friends.

   When the new friend came to the door Jori said, “This is a little embarrassing, but I seem to have run out of money temporarily.   I thought that I might stay with you for a few days until I decide what I’ll be doing.”

     “I’m sorry,” the friend said, frowning, “but we do not have any spare bedrooms.  You’ll have to go somewhere else.”       This man who Jori thought was his friend shut the door in  his face.  Embarrassed, he slowly walked down the street to the home of another new friend.  The new friend also refused to offer Jori a place to stay.

       By this time Jori was tired.  He had walked a long distance this afternoon.  The sun was hot.  The road was dusty, and he was thirsty.  He counted the few pennies in his money pouch.  There was not enough money even to buy a drink at the store.  Instead he went to the watering trough from which the horses drank.  He immersed his hot face into the water and took several deep drinks from the water that was not even cold.  This was not the happy, carefree life that he had planned.

   Finally, recognizing that he was in a difficult situation he went to the home of a wealthy man nearby.  He knocked on the door and asked to see the man.  The man did not even invite him into the house.

      Jori said in a faltering voice, “Sir, I understand that you have a large farm outside the city.  I’d like to start working for you.”

     “I already have several men working for me at the farm, “ the man replied.  "In what work are you skilled?”

     Jori tried to think of the things that he had done on his father’s farm, but mostly his father or his elder brother made the decisions.  Jori had occasionally helped rake the hay, feed the livestock and a few times he had helped the workers hoe weeds in the fields.  Jori had not enjoyed that work.  It was boring, the sun was hot and it made his muscles ache.

    The farm owner laughed when Jori told him of the tasks he had done.  “It doesn’t sound as if you have any useful skills.  The best I could do is allow you to take care of my pigs.”

    Jori sucked in his breath in astonishment.  Nevertheless, desperate for a job, he accepted the position.

    Day after day as Jori herded the farm owner’s pigs he thought about the conditions on his father’s farm.  Pigs were considered unclean and unhealthful animals in Israel.  To become a swineherd was the lowest job possible in Israel.  Jori did not earn enough money to buy much food, and sometimes he even ate the pigs'  food.  Jori slept in the barn with the pigs since he did not earn enough money to rent a bedroom at the inn.

     After a few weeks of hot, dry summer weather without rain the fields began to turn brown.  Without rain the crops  could not grow.  Food became more and more expensive.  Jori finally was forced to eat only the food that he could get from the pig trough.

   For many days Jori thought about his father’s farm and the wonderful life he had left behind.  The world was not the wonderful place Jori had thought it would be.  He longed to be back in his father’s house, sleeping in his own bed.  That could never be any more, Jori thought, “I have spent all of my share of my father’s wealth.  I don’t deserve to be my father’s son anymore.”

      Jori remembered the wonderful meals his father provided for his farm workers.  None of them had to eat pig’s food.  “I’ll go back to my father’s house,” Jori thought.  “I will ask him to let me be one of his hired hands.  At least I will have enough to eat.”

      Jori decided to return home at any cost.  He went to the sea coast and asked a ship’s captain if he could work as a deck hand on a ship that was going to sail to Israel in a few days.

   Even here, Jori had no useful work experience, and so he agreed to clean and scrub the decks. He would have to work long hours each day in the hot sun, but at least the ship would take him home to his father.     Arriving at the dock at Joffa Jori slung his tattered clothing in a pouch over his shoulder and started walking down the dusty road toward his father’s house.  Jori recalled the last time he had traveled down that road on a donkey.  Now he did not even have the money to buy a donkey.

   After walking for two days and sleeping in a haystack along the way at night, he finally came into sight of his father’s farm.  He could see a figure running down the road toward him, waving his arms.  As the man drew closer Jori was astonished to see that it was his father, welcoming him home.

   His father hugged and kissed him with tears of joy running down his cheeks.

   “Father, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  I have wasted the inheritance you gave me and have nothing to show for it but memories that make me ashamed of myself.  Please allow me to work on your farm as a hired hand and I’ll be a good workman for you.”

      The father said, “You are still my son.  You will be treated as my son, and I will be delighted to have you work with us on the farm as a family once again.”

   The father called one of his workers and ordered him to bring good clothing and good shoes to replace the tattered rags that Jori was wearing.  The father took off his own signet ring and placed it on Jori’s hand.  He ordered a servant to slaughter a calf and to place it over the coals to roast.  The housemaids began clapping and dancing while the pipers played songs of celebration and joy.  Jori had never been so happy in his whole life.  How wonderful it was to be part of a loving family again, and to be welcomed as a son.  He deeply regretted the foolish decisions he had made and now he would spend the rest of his life trying to make it up to his loving father.

    As the shadows began to lengthen, the elder son started home from the fields where he had been working.  In the distance he heard music and shouts of laughter mingled with the singing.  He called a servant to tell him what all of the commotion and celebration was.

   The servant answered, “Your younger brother has returned home and we have prepared a celebration for him.  We are roasting the prize calf for dinner tonight.”

  The elder brother was furious.  He went to his father and demanded an explanation.  He shouted at his father,  “All of these years I have worked hard for you.  I have remained on the farm, year after year.  You have not so much as given me a goat to roast for my friends, and here you have killed and roasted the fatted calf for your son.  Jori has squandered your living having a gay old time in the cities of the world, spending money on evil women and making parties for his friends.  This is not fair.”

   The father gently took his elder son by his shoulders and said, “Son, all that I have will be yours when I die.  You have been faithful to me and you have worked hard.  I appreciate that.  Nevertheless, this, your younger brother was dead to us, but now he is alive.  He has returned home to live with us.  We accept him as a member of our family and he will be treated as a member of the family.  He will work for us and we will pay him a workman’s wages for his work, but the inheritance is yours.  Let us rejoice in having this long lost member back in the family with us.”

      The elder brother was not happy to see Jori’s return but he recognized that his father was right.  He accepted Jori back into the household as a son of the family.  It is important to remember, however, that the father had said that his entire estate belonged as an inheritance for the elder brother since Jori had wasted his share of the inheritance.  Jori had received forgiveness, but the situation had changed and could not be changed back to its original status.  The consequences could not be averted.  Jori would not inherit any more of his father’s money.   He would always be the beloved son, welcome to work and stay in his father’s house for as long as the father lived.  But that was the most that the father could do for Jori because of Jori’s earlier decisions.  Those early decisions determined Jori’s fate forever.

Key Concepts:

    1.   This story represents the attitude of our Father God toward us as His children.  When we fail to fulfill the duties that God expects of us He does not disown us as children.  God loves us dearly, and the sacrifice of Jesus in our behalf allows us to enjoy complete forgiveness by God when we ask for forgiveness.

   2.   If we confess our failings, our Father, God, will be faithful to forgive us immediately and to bring us back into fellowship with Him and with our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

    3.   Decisions that we make in this life often carry consequences that may not be able to be changed.  We may not be able to complete in this life, the work that we failed to do in the past.  If we cause harm to others we should ask forgiveness and try to make it up to them.  Nevertheless, some things cannot be changed.  If we have killed another person, that person cannot be brought back to life in this world.  If we have caused children to be born without a father to love and care for them, they will suffer the consequences. They may have a childhood deprived of a father’s love and attention.  This rarely can be changed.

  4.   From this story we learn that it would have been better for Jori in the long run if he had not gone off and squandered his inheritance.  Nevertheless, he did just that, and his life changed forever in many respects, even though his father and brother forgave him for what he had done.

   5.  The people with whom we associate can have a great impact on what happens in our lives.  While we should have love and compassion for all people, we should be careful about the friends with whom we choose to spend our spare time.  Their values and standards may strongly influence our own decisions, and this will mold our character and values.