THE TRUE REPENTANCE
Returning home of the younger son shows us what the true repentance is as a prototype. It shows the dramatic state in which one man comes back to God, seeking Him. Shall we go?
The Younger Son’s Riotous Living (Lk 15:13)
The younger son was released from the father’s control, and enjoyed the freedom to the full extent, after he went to the far country. He left father’s house for the purpose of this joy, as a matter of fact. He did everything in obedience to his father’s commandment while living in his father’s house, but now, he had to plan everything about his life and decide it for himself in there. He expected it actually.
Therefore, we can easily imagine he would have made every effort to be successful in his life. Contrary to our imagination of such, however, the scriptures say that he wasted his substance with riotous living. It is not easy for us to understand why he had to live a wild life who was supposed to struggle hard to succeed. I will now get to it.
The Younger Son did Not Want Riotous Living
We find fault with the younger son on the basis that he left the house of his father and lived a wild life in the far country. So we call him a prodigal son without hesitation.
However, it will be very inappropriate if we look down on him and conclude him to be a man who has nothing in common with ‘me’. We will then fail to catch what Jesus says to us through this parable. Hence, we need to have a deeper thought on the parable so as to find the true meaning from it.
Differing from our general knowledge, the younger son attempted to live a better life other than riotous living because he had to make it in the far country at all costs. However, the life given to him in the far country ended in failure in spite of his every effort, which he never wanted. The ground we can say that he was lost against his will is that he longed to eat the pods although he was very miserable.
If he had aimed at wasting his substance and losing his life in the far country, he would have killed himself in his miserable condition instead of trying to find the pods. But, he desired to live. He longed to survive and succeed in his life. Therefore, he did not choose the riotous living, but his life resulted in the riotous living.
The tax collectors, sinners, harlots and the woman caught in the act of adultery in the scriptures represent those who were eager to live an earnest life. They, however, have produced such results of life against their intention. They are to be blamed if they have chosen such life according to their will. But they are not to be blamed because they have produced such life against their will. They deserve the pity only.
If the Younger Son had Not Lived a Riotous Life…
We will read this parable from a different point of view. We generally understand riotous living as squandering material wealth. We accordingly blame the younger son as a prodigal son on the basis that he squandered his father’s wealth in riotous living.
Then, what will he be if he had greatly succeeded in the far country and had gained a large volume of wealth enough to make a living even in the severe famine? Will he be a good son as he did not live a riotous living but made his fortune? No. We have to think that in such a case he would have no opportunity to return to his father ever.
He made up his mind to return home when he has come to the end of his rope after having lost everything in the far country. Only At that moment, he finally began to think about coming to his father’s house. He would have never returned to his father if he had earned a large sum of money, i.e., if he did not squander his living.
Well, we can think over now which one is more important than the other: the younger son’s coming to his father, or the wealth he lost? Absolutely, the former one. The father was not sorry at all for the wealth his younger son spent in riotous living, knowing from that he asked nothing about it from the beginning to the end. He was only thankful since the younger son returned home because of riotous living.
Therefore, if anyone of us blames the younger son’s riotous living, he reveals that he prefers the wealth to the younger son’s returning home. There was one man in the parable who was interested only in the wealth the younger son wasted. He was the older son staying home.
But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
This verse shows what matter of concern the older son is interested in. He cared for nothing about his brother’s safe return. He was only interested in the property his brother wasted, and he thus hated him without knowing Father’s mind.
We illustrated the younger son by referring to the lexical meaning of the riotous living. We will now think of the fundamental problem of the younger son staying in the far country through the spiritual meaning of the riotous living.
The Greek Word for Riotous Living
The word of riotous living used by Jesus is not the literal meaning that we can find in the dictionary. ‘Riotous living’ is KJV translation, ‘wild living’ is NIV’s and ‘loose living’ is NASB’s. They are translations of old Greek zon asotos. Here, zon indicates ‘life’ and asotos means ‘riotous.’ asotos is the compound of a of negative prefix and stos of variant of sozo of ‘save’ or ‘make safe.’ Accordingly, zon astos means analytically the ‘life without salvation.’ Thus, the younger son’s riotous living represents the life without salvation.
What does the younger son’s life without salvation mean? The far country in the parable indicates the place without salvation and security, and the younger son accordingly had a hard time to live in there. On the contrary, the house of the father represents the place of salvation and security.
Thus, the younger son’s living without salvation means that he left his father and lived alone in the far country. Jesus points out that his life was riotous because he left the father’s house.
Therefore, the younger son’s riotous living does not mean that he was wasteful and prodigal during the life in the far country. His riotous living already started when he left the house of his father. Thus, in far country, no matter what he does is riotous living.
Even if he does donation, sharing, peace making, love, non-riotous living, going to the church, all of them constitute riotous living without any exception. If he had not wished riotous living, then he must not have left the house of his father from the beginning. It is the only way.
The Younger Son in the Far Country Represents Us
We have been comparing the younger son to Adam. The younger son who left Father’s house is Adam who left the Eden, God’s house. Each of the younger son and Adam is us. We are they, and they are we.
The younger son reflects us who left God and came to this world. Like the younger son, we struggle to succeed in this world, that is, the far country. For example, we are anxious for gathering wealth, winning power, or achieving fame, during which all of us, however, become frustrated and lost. None of us is lost after intentionally having lived a wild life. They are concluded to have lived such a life as the final result.
This world brings riotous living to all its inhabitants by constitution. We are to leave everything that we have acquired behind in this world when we breathe our last. Do we agree that we are undergoing the riotous living when we find that we are doing our best to achieve the above-described things?
In this world, we are leading our life alone after having left God. The life given after having left God is the life without salvation and the riotous living. Thus, we are already destined to live riotous living in the far country no matter how hard we may try. Jesus enlightens us from this parable that we left God and we are now experiencing riotous living. This parable is not about the prodigal son, but about ‘me’.
The Return of the Younger Son
The younger son wasted his substance even though he had tried every effort to live an earnest life. Nobody gave him husks the swine eat since there was a mighty famine in the far country when wasted his substance. Now, the younger son speaks to himself,
“How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger. I will arise and go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and am no more worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired servants.”
This confession by the younger son that he has sinned against heaven and father does not mean that he is repenting one or more mistaken deeds. But he is repenting his whole life during which he has left his father and lived his own life in the far country. His sinful life already began when he had left his father. He realized his sinful life when he faced death.
The confession that he has sinned against heaven and father is the true confession that comes from the bottom of his heart before death. He has become one lost sheep, which are to be carried to the home of shepherd. This is the true repentance by a man.
If we desire to know each of us is the sinner, it is needed for us to undergo the life of the younger son. If we confess by word of mouth that we are sinners without such life, it is not a true confession. We are told in the church that each human being is born as a sinner and is to repent in order to believe in Jesus, and as a result be blessed. However, frankly speaking, we have no idea what we have sinned and why we are sinners.
Nevertheless, we just simply agree that we are sinners since we want to get blessing by believing in Jesus. Those who make a confession as sinners without undergoing the life of sinner are not sinners. They are so-called “fake sinners.” Only true sinners will repent, and be saved by Jesus.
Anyway, in the course of life, each of us will be meeting a time when we are driven into a corner as the younger son was. When we truthfully pant for God and repent our sin at that time, it is the true repentance.
The younger son returned home when he had faced death, that is, the limit of his self-centered life. While the younger son was still a long way off, his father saw him, ran to him, flung his arms round him, and kissed him. The father was seeing first his son coming in the distance.
It means that the father was watching the horizon day by day, looking forward to his son’s returning home. We can gather in this passage the earnest passion of the father who is waiting for the younger son having left home.
Each of us is the younger son before God, the father. We will repent and seek for God when we have encountered the limit of life after having left the house of God and having lived by ourselves. God finds even today any of us who truly repents.
1 A Psalm of David. LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? 2 He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. 3 He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
Some may think, “Why doesn’t the father aggressively send a guy to him or directly go to find him?” If the father could have solved the problems by doing so, he would not have let his younger son go from the beginning. He would have tried to take hold of his son under his control by force.
Even if his father has brought him home before his ripe time, the younger son would have continuously thought of leaving home. That why his father did not do so. The parable spoken by Jesus is the word of truth as it is to shed light on the essence of all issues.
The father began to celebrate when his younger son returned. He asked his younger son nothing about how much money the younger son had left or what kind of business he had done, because the father’s purpose of letting his son go to the far country did not aim at increasing the wealth. The father only wanted his son to realize himself and come home.
As a matter of fact, the father was worried about his son when he first decided to let him go, because his son might not return. But, the father was very glad indeed to see his son returned alive. The return of the younger son has fulfilled the intention of the father who had let him go initially.
The father and the younger son are reunited through the above-mentioned course, which represents the repentance by one sinner in the scriptures. Hence, joy shall be in heaven.
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.
God will be glad at each of us who repents. He does not care about how much money we earned, how much we made it as a doctor, and how godly we are who did not mingle with the prostitutes. He considers nothing about what we did in this world, and whether we succeeded or failed in this world. He is only glad at us when each of us has repented and come back to Him while we are still alive.
The Far Country From the Father’s Viewpoint
The far country gave the younger son a hard life, squeezed him, and destroyed him, but it performed a job the father wanted. That is, after such tribulation the far country returned the younger son as a true son to the father.
The far country must always give its inhabitants a hard life and troubles, which is God’s mission given to the far country. We have selected the hard life in the far country for ourselves when we had left God, the father, as an Adam.
The hard life given in the far country, therefore, suits the God’s purpose: first, the hard life makes each of us know that it is pain to leave God, and second, the pain leads us to the way of returning to God again.
Some people try to deceive us with the saying that kingdom of heaven would come to the world where we belong, the far country in the parable. However, no such attempt has ever achieved its purpose during the history of human beings. It is fundamentally impossible to let the kingdom of heaven come to this world. God himself is the kingdom of heaven, and so, the world formed by those who have left God can never be the kingdom of heaven.
The one and only way of letting the kingdom of heaven come on this earth is to let Jesus Christ come into the mind of each of us. We can then see the world as the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus Christ who Comes On the Younger Son who Repented
The father has a fatted calf be killed and then has a feast for the younger son. He gives the younger son the best robe, ring, and shoes to put on. Spiritual meaning of this scene is that Jesus Christ comes to the one who truly repented, in order to lead him to the Kingdom of God, i.e., salvation.
All that are given to him symbolize Jesus Christ. The Greek translated as the ‘best’ is ‘protos’ which is also translated as the ‘first’ in the saying of Jesus, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last (Rev 22:13.).” Therefore, the best represents Jesus Christ.
Also, the robe indicates righteousness. In detail, the robe symbolizes the righteousness since it covers our shame in front of God. Adam and the woman ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and their eyes were opened to know the feeling of shame. At that time, they made clothes for themselves by sewing fig leaves, but God made garments of skin and clothed them.
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.
In this instance, the clothes made by them with fig leaves symbolize the self-righteousness achieved by men. Self-righteousness comes from the deeds of keeping the law. Those who have kept the law of God are proud and self-confident, because they think God cannot treat them unkindly as they have done God’s will.
They will say to God in their heart at the judgment:
“I have done many good things. I have done works eligible for entering the kingdom of heaven. So, I am not to be ashamed.”
The Meaning of Unclothing the Coverings Made of Fig Leaves
The above-noted self-righteousness is figuratively expressed as clothes (coverings) sewed with fig leaves together in the scriptures. God takes off the clothes, which means that God does not accept such righteousness of man.
Some people may wonder why He accepts no righteousness of man. This kind of question occurs to us when we think there is little difference between the righteousness of man and the righteousness of God. It may seem so if we take a superficial view of them.
But, there is righteousness that is accepted by God, and the other that is not accepted by God even though the righteousness is same. For example, we consider gifts to the poor, tithes, and church services are righteous things, but those righteous things that were done by Pharisees were rejected by God.
The righteousness that is not accepted by God is called self-righteousness, which is not righteousness in fact. We are to give up the righteousness of man, i.e., self-righteousness, and accept the righteousness of God when we wish to enter the kingdom of God. We need to follow the law of God in the kingdom of God.
Let us look at the Chapter 20 of Matthew, which shows the parable of the vineyard workers.
Here, the marketplace symbolizes the human society in which the give-and-take rule is applicable, and the vineyard indicates the kingdom of God working by the rule of life. When the workers who have the marketplace mindset wish to find fault with the principle of the vineyard, the landowner said, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own?” (Matt. 20:15.)
The vineyard works by the rule of life according to the will of the landowner. It is mistaken if we think the vineyard works by the righteousness of marketplace. We will be able to abide in the vineyard when we have the righteousness of the vineyard.
Anyway, our attempts not to give up the self-righteousness reveal that we are sinners, and so we have left the garden in Eden where God dwells, and have come to this world. The righteousness of man is not righteousness in the kingdom of God (Isa 64:4.) It’s a fake. If we are speaking to God to accept our self-righteousness, we are making an absurd demand on God for accepting the fake as a true one. The righteousness of God is the one and only righteousness (Mt 19:17).
I descried for ease of our understanding that God accepts no righteousness of man, which however contains the natural law, and which is not the question about whether God accepts the righteousness of man or not. It is not God that He accepts some of our deeds and gives us a reward, and He hates some and punishes us.
He accepts them all. However, everything is not good for us even though He accepts them all. If we do the self-righteousness, that will make us distant from God.
For example, it is not a bad thing for us to carry a gallon of gas with us. However, we will be burned to death if we are standing before a fire while carrying the gas with us. Accordingly, those who know this will force the people to put down the gas who try to do so.
The self-righteousness is figuratively identical with the gas. No one who has armed himself with the self-righteousness can enter the kingdom of God because of the very self-righteousness. We will be able to understand it considering the case of the older son in the parable of the lost son. He was armed with full of self- righteousness.
We can see that by his saying, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders (Lk 15:29).” Because of this self-righteousness, he could not enter the house of his father.
Hence, God enlightens us now through the scripture not to bring self-righteousness to the judgment seat afterlife. This is the meaning why God unclothes the coverings of fig leaves made by Adam and the woman.
What Do the Garments of Skin Mean?
God takes off the coverings made of fig leaves from them and clothes them with the garments of skin, and in this instance, the garments of skin corresponds to the best robe in the current parable. The younger son did not self-produce the best robe and put it on for himself. He received it, by free gift, the father has prepared for him.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Paul says the persons who died with Christ and born again have put on Christ. That is, they have become those whose sins are forgiven and so they can stand rightly before God. The self-righteousness is a makeshift for covering the sin like the coverings of fig leaves, but the garments of skin of Jesus Christ set people completely free from the sin.
In addition to the best robe, the younger son receives a ring. It symbolizes also Jesus Christ who is entrusted with all authority. Jesus came to the world, saying this:
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.
Jesus came to this world, entrusted with all authority from God. Therefore, being entrusted with all authority from God represents Jesus Christ, and it is symbolized as the ring. In Genesis, Joseph gained the confidence of the Pharaoh to be entrusted with all authority. Here, he received the same two items as those the younger son received, that is, the robe of fine linen and the ring.
40 Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou. 41 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt. 42 And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; 43 And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt.
As described, the ring represents being entrusted with all authority, and it indicates Christ. As a result, the younger son’s receiving a ring from his father indicates that he received Jesus Christ.
Further, the younger son received the shoes and ate the fattened calf, which describes the life caused by Christ. The shoes symbolize the life of preaching Jesus Christ (Eph 6:15), and his eating of the fattened calf indicates that he lives his life with Jesus Christ as the bread of life.
The younger son lived a hard life in the far country after having left his father. He felt deep in his heart that the house of his father was the kingdom of heaven when he was totally exhausted and fell down in the far country.
When he repented and came back to the house of his father, his father prepared the best robe, ring, shoes, and fattened calf for his son. All of them symbolize Jesus Christ. In the same manner, we will meet Jesus Christ in our life when we truly repented as the younger son.
When the younger son came back home after repentance, his faith step of the Old Testament has finished, and the step of New Testament has begun in his faith.
(Taken from “Fresh Eyes to Read the Bible I – Biblical Steps for Growing in Faith”)