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The Lost Son Came to Himself

October 19, 2021 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 15:11-20 (NRSV)

Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ So he set off and went to his father.

Focus

In the parable known as The Prodigal Son, Jesus tells the story of a young man who is lost morally, relationally, and spiritually. For a while he seems unaware of how desperate his situation is. But then, as Jesus describes it, “he came to himself.” It can be hard and painful to see ourselves as we really are. For a while, we might prefer to live in denial. But the journey to healing and wholeness begins with “coming to ourselves” honestly, recognizing just how much we need God’s mercy.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

This week we’ve been reflecting on what we call the parable of The Prodigal Son. In yesterday’s devotion I suggested that, although the younger son in Jesus’s story was surely prodigal (extravagant, wasteful), it may be better to think of him more as the lost son. That’s the way Jesus describes him (Luke 15:24, 32). And that’s consistent with the theme of Luke 15, with its parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.

As the parable begins, the younger son didn’t think of himself as lost. If anything, for a while he was probably quite pleased with himself as he spent his inheritance on “dissolute living” (15:13; or as the NIV reads, “wild living”). Maybe this young man even thought that he had found himself since he was no longer under the authority of his father.

But the younger son’s reverie didn’t last. After squandering his money, the place where he lived suffered a famine. Soon, the son was starving, forced to feed pigs for meager income, and wishing he could eat the pig slop. At this point, Jesus says, he “came to himself.” That’s a literal translation of the Greek. In ordinary English we might say that “he came to his senses” (CEB). All of a sudden this young man realized his lostness. He was in a desperate situation and things weren’t getting better. Realizing that his father’s employees were far better off than he was, the younger son decided to return home and beg for mercy. He was not worthy to be his father’s son anymore, but perhaps he could work for his father. At least that way he wouldn’t be hungry.

The theological term for the son’s experience is repentance. It begins with an awareness of the fact that we are lost, that we are going in the wrong direction. It begins when we “come to ourselves” or “come to our senses.” Then, and only then, are we ready to choose a different way. When we realize our lostness, we’re finally open to the possibility of being found.

Today, you might recognize that you are lost in some way. Your lostness may be relatively minor compared to that of the lost son in Jesus’s parable. But, as you come to your senses, you will realize that you need to be found by God in some new way. Recognizing that we are lost is often the first step toward being found.

Reflect

As you think about your life, do you feel “lost” in any way? If so, what’s your lostness like?

Can you think back to other times in your life when you were “lost”? How did that feel? What helped you to be found?

Why is it sometimes so hard for us to “come to ourselves,” that is, to see ourselves clearly and honestly when certain things in life are not going well?

Act

Take some time to think about your life, both present and past. Are you in a situation today where you need to “come to yourself”? Can you think of a time (or times) in the past when you had this experience and it helped you to be found by God?

Pray

Lord Jesus, again I thank you for this parable, for its power and poignancy.

Today I’m struck by how the lost son “came to himself.” He was finally able to see himself with clarity, to recognize what a mess he had made of his life. That moment was the beginning of his becoming found. It was the start of his repentance.

Lord, I thank you for the times in my life when you have helped me “come to myself.” As painful as it has been to see myself plainly, with all of my shortcomings and sins, this experience has helped me to turn to you in a new way. It has started me on the road to repentance, and for this I thank you.

If I need to “come to myself” today, Lord, I ask that you help. Give me eyes to see who I am and how I’m doing. Give me confidence in your mercy so I can be truly honest with myself and with you. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: Finding God in All the Wrong Places: In the Midst of Shame


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One thought on “The Lost Son Came to Himself

  1. Jonathan Russell says:

    Mark, I know I mentioned it several years ago, but this series reminded me once again (and I need to be reminded often) of Henri Nouwen’s great insight that “I leave home every time I lose faith in the voice that calls me the Beloved and follow the voices that offer a great variety of ways to win the love I so much desire. . . .Why do I keep leaving home where I am called a child of God, the Beloved of my Father? I am constantly surprised at how I keep taking the gifts God has given me — my health, my intellectual and emotional gifts — and keep using them to impress people, receive affirmation and praise, and compete for rewards, instead of developing them for the glory of God. Yes, I often carry them off to a ‘distant country’ and put them in the service of an exploiting world that does not know their true value.”
    –Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

    Why do you think, unlike in the other “lost parables,” the father did not go searching for the son? I think as you suggest, the son was not physically lost, as in the other parables. The father could have found him if he wanted to. Suggesting that perhaps if we are spiritually lost, there is some action on our part that may be required for us to be spiritually “found.” Anyway. . . may not be where you want to go but does seem to be a nod to our Wesleyan/Arminian brethren.

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