The Shofar is the ancient trumpet which called the people of God to prayer, repentance, sacrifice and war.


Luke 15:11-32
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By Stephen Green

First published in Christian Voice February 2011

Luke 15:11 And he said, A certain man had two sons:

12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.

13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.

14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.

15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.

17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,

19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.

22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:

23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:

24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing.

26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.

27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.

28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.

29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:

30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.

31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.

32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

I hesitate to write about the so-called prodigal son, because we all know it so well, but I believe there are a couple of details in the story which are sometimes overlooked.  The parable comes in a chapter expressing joy at repentant sinners, and how we all need repentant hearts in the face of our sins. the assurance of forgiveness at the foot of the cross and the promise of eternal rest.

First in the chapter comes the lost sheep and the very best of good shepherds.  Jesus is not one who will let a sheep die of exposure because it only represents one percent of his livestock.  No, he takes time to go and find it.  In John's Gospel (10:15) he says he lays down his life for the sheep.  The sheep are metaphorical ones there, for such self-sacrifice for a real sheep is beyond being even the best of good shepherds.

Then the woman loses a coin which represents a tenth of her wealth.  She scours the house to find it.  And as with the finding of the lost sheep, she celebrates with her neighbours, who represent the angels in heaven.

In contrast with these two stories, where God as it were goes looking for the sinner to bring him home, in the parable of the prodigal son the father does nothing except pray and wait.  There is a time when our prayer leads to action for the lost, as when Jehoshaphat prayed for something to do in 2Chron 20:12, and when Esther had to take action for her people (Esth 4:16).  Indeed, in Christian Voice we are always looking for something active to do.  It occurs to me to mention that both Jehoshaphat and Esther backed up their prayer for a course of action with fasting in unity with others.

There is of course a time when we can only pray, or if we are really serious, fast and pray.  Sometimes we are praying for family members to return to the Lord, or to return to us.  In such cases, there may be something practical we can do, but there might come a time when all we can do is pray and wait.

Even then, we may be able to do something active, apart from fasting, even as we pray, just to show the Lord our prayer is serious.  For four years now, all we have felt able  to do as a ministry about the proposed 'megamosque' in West Ham is pray.  But we have gone to the site to pray, and we have seen miracles of confusion amongst the Lord's enemies.

I well remember our successful campaign against the theatre tour of Jerry Springer the Opera in 2006.  The campaign centred around the giving out of leaflets to theatre-goers in the run-up to the show appearing, and then leafleting every night it was on, for the whole of the 23 week tour.  The tour flopped.  No theatre filled more than one-third of its seats, except one which scraped past, and every single one lost money.  It was Council tax-payers' money, of course, so it didn't matter to them.

Now, in Edinburgh , there were some ladies who despite our best efforts to convince them, refused to leaflet. Instead, they came down to the theatre and prayed during the run in its coffee shop.  That impressed me, and it had an effect at the throne of grace.  The Festival Theatre was one of the worst-attended venues on the tour.

In Southend-on-Sea, the local Christians also refused to leaflet outside the theatre, despite my telling them that was how to do it.  Instead, they persuaded the management to let them have a stall inside, which they occupied from an hour before each performance to half-an-hour after. Being unable to persuade them otherwise, I told them I would pray for them.  Southend recorded the lowest turn-out of punters on the whole tour.  A derisory ten per cent of seats were covered.  Those local Christians had really put themselves out, making themselves vulnerable and available to anyone and everyone going in and coming out of the show for hours.  And God honoured that. It was wonderful for me to be reminded that I am not the fount of all wisdom.

So the father in the parable of the lost son simply prays, or at least that is what we assume, because that is what we should do.  We are not told he prayed, but we do know he waited.  In fact we should not expect to hear too much about whether the father prayed or not.  It is a parable about the joy in heaven over a repentant sinner.  The message we are to take from it is that however far we - or anyone - has fallen, there is still a way back if we will only come to our senses, repent in humility and return.  And furthermore that God will welcome us back and that there will rejoicing in heaven.

The Greek Bible editor Zodhiates says in a footnote in my King James Bible: 'The elder brother would not accept his younger brother because he thought his brother had associated himself with harlots, although he repented.  In the case of such prodigal sons and daughters, Christians sometimes act like the "older son" when they should follow the example of the father.'  Indeed we should follow the father's example, and even though we can see where the elder son is coming from we must resist the temptation to resent the equal pay given to those who only work for an hour in the vineyard.  After all:

Luke 13:30  And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.

Finally, there is a curious and uncomfortable detail which is often overlooked in the parable.  The younger son wanted his share of the inheritance.  Inheritance is an important matter today and it certainly was then, but there was less discretion on the part of the parents.  Daughters received no inheritance from their father (see Rachel and Leah's comments in Gen 31:14) unless only daughters were born (see the daughters of Zelophehad in Numb 27:7-8).  The eldest son received twice as much as his younger brethren because he had the duty to look after his parents in their old age, and the right of the first-born was strictly observed (see Deut 21:6-7).  It seems that it was not unusual for the inheritance to be divided before the actual death of the father.

And that is what happens in the parable.  The father divides the inheritance as asked and the younger son goes off with his share.  When he comes back, and when his elder brother complains, the father says: 'Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.'  The statement is literally true.  All that the father has is now the property of the elder son, the younger having already spent his share.  We do not know if the younger son every received any inheritance again.  Certainly, he was welcomed back in his father's love and household.  But the things we do still have consequences.  King David repented of his adultery with Bathsheba, but his son died and his family fell apart.  Judas repented but his Lord was still crucified and he still bore his guilt.

And yet, even in the most extreme case of the most terrible sin, it is still written:

Psalm 33:18  Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy;

Psalm 103:12  As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

2Cor 7:9  Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, ...

2Cor 7:10  For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

Or as our Lord himself puts it:

Luke 15:7  I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.