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The lost son (Part 1)

A well-known parable retold

by Laurence Chilcott

Suitable for Key Stage 2 - Church Schools

Aims

To look at how we may not always make the best choices, but there is always a way back thanks to the grace and forgiveness of God (SEAL theme: Relationships).

Preparation and materials

  • This assembly and ‘The lost son (Part 2)’ are best told on consecutive days or weeks.
  • You will need a leader and two children to either read the parts of the father and son in the story or act it out as a tableau, rehearsing a little before the assembly.

Assembly

Leader Jesus told many stories that are recorded in the New Testament. His stories were often about everyday events that all the people could relate to, but they had a special purpose – they were told to help people understand more about God. Usually the stories, or parables as they are called, spoke for themselves, but sometimes they had to be explained. Let me now tell you one of Jesus’ best-known parables. 

The lost son 

Leader A father had two sons, both of whom he loved greatly. The father was a farmer – a very successful farmer, with many fields that produced grain and fruit, and many animals that gave wool, milk and meat. Both sons had worked on the farm since they were small boys and they were now young men – strong, hard workers who laboured from sunrise to sunset. One day, they would take over the farm from their father, but that day was a long way off.

That was a problem for the youngest son – he didn’t really like being tied to the farm and was tired of the daily routine. He wanted to be independent, he wanted to see the world and he wanted to do his own thing. He thought about it for some time, then plucked up the courage to go to his father with a proposition – he knew it might make him angry, but it was now or never.

Reader 1 Dad, you know I’ve worked hard on the farm all these years and I know that one day I will inherit my share of everything, but I would like to have my share of the land now.

Leader His father cautioned him about the wisdom of what he wanted and advised him against doing it, but at the same time he didn’t want to force his son to stay where he was not happy. So, after lengthy discussion and much to the surprise and delight of the young son, the father said:

Reader 2 If that is what you feel you must do, I will not stand in your way.

Leader Within months, the land rights were transferred to the younger son and within days of that happening, he had put the land up for sale. What his father thought we don’t know, but it was too late to do anything about it. As soon as the land was sold, the son was off to the city with money in his pocket and a healthy bank balance.

It did not take him long to get used to the city – it was far more exciting than being stuck on a farm. He rented a house in the centre of town where all the action was. He made the most of his newfound freedom – no more early mornings for him, but lots of late nights! His parties soon became legendary, his generosity was unbounded and he was the most popular guy around. Being brought up in the country and only knowing the people he had grown up with, he did not realize that lots of his new so-called friends were taking advantage of him, for he always seemed to end up paying the bill and the parties were always held at his house. He didn’t let it worry him too much, though, as he was having a good time.

The good times didn’t last forever, though. Soon his bank balance had dwindled and he had to rent a smaller place. His friends weren’t quite so keen to visit him there and he certainly couldn’t afford to keep up the lifestyle he’d become used to. He decided that he’d have to get a job before his money ran out completely. That wasn’t easy because things in the city weren’t too good either. There was a recession and, as the only work experience he’d had was in farming, his skills weren’t any use in the city anyway. Eventually he decided to move out from the city and he found a job – looking after pigs.

They didn’t even have pigs at his father’s farm, as they were Jews and Jews view pigs as unclean animals, not to be eaten. What a comedown! What is more, food was in such short supply because of several bad harvests that some days he was so hungry, even the pigs’ food looked tempting. It was one day, as he sat looking longingly at an apple core that a pig was about to gobble up, that he came to his senses.

Reader 1 I’ve been such a fool! My father has farmhands and servants who live better than I do. They have a roof over their heads and food to eat and I’m here looking after pigs. I can’t expect my father to accept me back as his son, but perhaps he will take pity on me and let me work as a servant – anything would be better than this.

Leader So, the decision made, he gathered up what few possessions he had and headed home. His mind was in turmoil as he thought about his foolishness and he wondered what sort of a reception he’d have at home. Over and over in his head he rehearsed the words he would say to his father and he feared the anger and rejection that his father might show him – who could blame him?

It was early evening and his father was standing on the hillside overlooking the road. He had done so at the same time every day since his son had left home. As always, he thought about the son he had seen leave three long years ago, but today, as he thought, he remembered even more vividly the picture of his boy striding out, upright and eager to face the world. There was sadness in his eyes and fear that he might never see his boy again.

As he stood there, he saw a figure in the distance. Someone was walking up the track to the farm. A lonely figure, walking as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, head bowed, arms hanging limply by his sides. He was still some distance away, but the father recognized the unmistakable features of his son.

He could not wait until his son reached the farm, so he ran down to him, threw his arms around him and hugged him. Not one word of anger, no ‘I told you so’. Instead, he called for a fine set of new clothes to be brought to him, replaced his battered, worn-out shoes and organized a party to celebrate his homecoming. He told his servants:

Reader 2 It is as if my son was dead and is alive again, was lost and now is found!

Leader The boy’s father had never stopped loving his son. He had been sad when he went away and probably knew that things would not turn out well, but he was overjoyed when his son returned, asking to be forgiven for his foolishness. The son did not really deserve such generosity, but his father loved him so much he was prepared to forgive him completely and give him a fresh start.

Jesus told this story to show how much God loves us. Just like the son in the story, we often want our own way and do not think of the consequences. We make foolish mistakes and come to regret them later. Just like the father in the story, though, God never stops loving us and is always ready to forgive us when we admit our wrongdoing.

Time for reflection

In what ways could the father have reacted to his son’s return? How would we have reacted to it?

The lost son had plenty of friends when he had money. Discuss ‘fair weather friends’ as opposed to those who offer us true friendship. 

Prayer
Dear Lord,
Forgive us, we pray, for the times when we have acted foolishly. 
When we have wanted our own way and not listened to good advice; 
when we have not considered the thoughts or feelings of others. 
May we be prepared to forgive others when they are sorry for hurting or upsetting us, just as you are prepared to forgive us when we admit our wrongdoing.  
Amen.

Publication date: May 2014   (Vol.16 No.5)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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