Being Brought to Repentance

21 Nov

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In the Parable of the Prodigal Son Jesus tells of the condition that befell the young man after he had left his father. He spent his inheritance on strangers, and afterward found he hadn’t a friend among them. With his wealth gone, he came to realize he was a stranger in a strange land, and, at least for him, there was a famine in that land (Luke 15:14). That is he was alone and destitute with no means of saving himself.

He joined himself to a citizen of the country to which he journeyed to be away from his family and friends. In other words, the young man became that man’s servant in order to survive. It is clear at once that this man wasn’t a friend, because he had the young man do what would have been utterly abhorrent to Jewish man’s worldview. He had him feed swine (Luke 15:15), an unclean animal according to his religion. Yet, this is what the young man did in order to live.

The feed given the animals was probably pods from the local carob tree. It is commonly called the “locust tree” and some believe it was the pods of this tree that John the Baptist ate rather than the locust insect.

(Ceratonia siliqua), commonly called the locust tree. This common Palestine tree is distinguished by its beautiful dark glossy foliage. The long pods, which ripen from May to August according to the altitude, are even to-day used as food by the poor; a confection is made from them. But they are used chiefly for cattle. The name ‘St. John’s bread’ is given to these pods, from a tradition that these, and not locusts, composed the food of St. John the Baptist. [see Hastings: husks at Luke 15:16].

I don’t believe the translators offer us a good rendering of Luke 15:16. I am by no means a scholar, and it might be viewed as arrogant for me to criticize here, but the sense of Luke 15:16 as translated, doesn’t necessarily point to the change of mind (repentance) that occurs in Luke 15:17. I think, if the conjunction “and (G2532) no man” were changed to yet, one might be able to see the sense Jesus offers in this verse. Consider that the young man was so destitute that he could have desired to satisfy his hunger with the feed he had been giving the animals, YET,[1] i.e. even though this was his condition—“no man gave” anything to him out of compassion. It wasn’t animal food that people wouldn’t give him. Rather, it was the food they enjoyed, that he at one time enjoyed with them, when they were his friends, that was not offered him now. It was this understanding that led to the young man’s thinking in Luke 15:17.

The young man began to compare his present destitute and friendless situation (cf. Luke 15:16) with what he knew to be true under the authority of his father (Luke 15:17). There, the hired servants had plenty to eat, because his father cared for them. However, under his present circumstances his days wage wasn’t enough to satisfy his hunger, so he desired to fill himself with the food he gave to the swine.

When we read, “When he came to himself…” (Luke 15:17) it means that the young man considered what he had done, understood it was wrong, and desired to return to his father and beg for mercy. In other words, he repented.[2]

The Scriptures tell us that it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). It is the remembrance of how we had been treated by God, when our sins didn’t hide his face from us (cf. Isaiah 59:2). In this remembering we are encouraged to return to him. Remembering his goodness encourages the sinner that he will be treated not only fairly but with mercy, if he embarks on the path to return to him. Moreover, Jesus offers us a picture of this in that the young man was encouraged by the goodness of his own father, and it was this remembering that led to his return to him (Luke 15:17-20a).


[1] The conjunction and (G2532) is translated yet in John 21:23, Acts 7:5; 1Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 1:22 and 2Thessalonians 3:15. If it were so translated in Luke 15:16, it would give a different sense to the verse.

[2] It seems to me that the modern doctrine of the “total depravity of man” is absent here. The young man was able to act upon the goodness God gives to all men and repent. The sinner may have to be sought out (cf. Luke 15:4), and he may not understand his value to the whole (cf. Luke 15:8), but he is able to consider his ways and begin take the first steps on the way to repentance (Luke 15:17-19).

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Posted by on November 21, 2017 in Gospel of Luke


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