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God’s Word for You

Luke 15:15-19 Pigs

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, October 9, 2018

15 So he hired himself out to one of the citizens of that region who sent him to his farm to feed the pigs. 16 He ached to feed himself with the carob beans the pigs were eating but no one would let him have them.

Carob beans or pods are the long edible product of the locust-tree, common all over the Middle East and northern Africa. They are often decorative bushes planted on the edges of gardens or fields.

The lost son might have gone back to his father when the famine took place, but some sinners wander still further from God when trouble sets it. So the son is shown getting a job with the most unclean animals a Jew could imagine: pigs. Pigs were set apart with a special command: “The pig, though it has a split hoof completely divided, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you” (Leviticus 11:7). And while the next verse of the law applies to all of the animals in the long list of unclean creatures, it is attached to the verse about the pig: “You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you” (Leviticus 11:8). The lost son seems to have reached the very bottom of the barrel. But there’s more.

The pigs had it better than he did, because while he was feeding them, no one was feeding him. He “ached” to eat a few of the long, brown carob beans he fed them with, bushels at a time. The beans, which are 6-8 inches long, have a sweet taste and are sometimes used as a substitute for chocolate today. But “no one would let him.” He couldn’t eat the pig food. It was for them, not him. These beans, many commentators say, “symbolize the empty, unsatisfying food that is offered to the starving souls of men by the world” (Lenski, Luke, p. 811). This reminds me of several times when I’ve been called to the emergency room late at night when a child has died. The parents are grieving, and it seems as if there is always a nurse or a physician who is trying to offer spiritual comfort, but it’s not Biblical comfort, and it’s so empty that it makes the parents grieve all the more. Usually it’s something like, “And your little one is an angel now.” But that’s not what God teaches at all. Heaven for us is better even than that. Through Christ, we don’t become angels, we remain human, but without any suffering, without any pain or grief or trouble, forever. We enter into the glory of God along with the angels “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ… and is at the right hand of God with angels, etc.,” 1 Peter 3:21-22. Through Jesus we have forgiveness and a place with God eternally in heaven.

17 When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough food, and am I here dying of hunger!  18 I’m leaving. I will go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  19 I no longer deserve to be called your son. Make me one of your hired men.”

By saying that the lost son’s conversion happened “when he came to his senses,” Jesus teaches us that conversion happens all of a sudden, like being awakened from sleep. The son understands the depth to which he has sunk, although he is not precisely where he thinks he is. His fear and his sin have sunk him down more deeply than he really is. How so? Because he does not realize that the father still loves him.

Looking around, he notices that everyone had things better off back on his father’s estate. To some people, this might sound a little like the grumbling of the Jews after they left Egypt: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” (Numbers 21:5). The difference is that Israel was rescued from Egypt; the lost son ran away from his blessed home. Still steeped in his sinful condition and doubting his father’s love, he concocts a story. He manufactures a speech that he hopes with stir up enough greed in his father to allow him to come and work for him.

This is what our sinful nature always wants to do. I can earn my way back into God’s good graces. I can do some work, and then God will let me back in, if only I can work hard enough; if only I can seem sincere. The sinful nature does not comprehend God’s grace.

Do not underestimate the Father’s love for you. Do not discount his gracious and compassionate mercy. The relationship he has created in you through your baptism is not that of employer and employee. It’s Father and child. You are God’s own dear child. He invites you to pray to him with the word, “Our Father…,” and he has made Jesus Christ, his one and only Son, your very own brother. Cherish the place you have, and don’t forget about it.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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