We started looking at this parable yesterday. I said I wanted to take some time with it and examine it from a few different perspectives. Yesterday we looked at the crowd Jesus was addressing as well as looking at the customs surrounding this parable. We specifically looked at Jewish laws and customs relating to inheritance. Today we are going to look at the first character in the parable. The one who caused the problem in the first place. The one the listener is intended to identify with.
Yesterday I assigned names to our three characters. Levi was the youngest son, Philip was the name chosen for the older brother, and James is what I named the father. Let’s look at the story through Levi’s eyes today.
Levi is will be 25 years old in two weeks. He has lived under his father’s roof all his life and labored in his father’s fields for as long as he can remember. Levi’s older brother Philip has never let Levi forget his place in the family. Levi and Philip used to be best friends when they were younger, but as they grew so did their competition for their father’s attention and the distance between “oldest” and “youngest” status.
Philip was married five years ago and is now expecting his first child. Levi is certain that his own father will be spending what little time he had been favoring Levi with on his grandchild instead. Levi is angry and frustrated all the time, as he believes his life as going nowhere. Levi wants OUT of this house. OUT of this dead end job. And OUT of this family! But how?
Levi would love to tell his father that he wants a different life. That he wants to be free of his life in the fields. That he wants to be out from under his brother’s shadow. He wants his own life. But he can just hear what Philip and his father would say; “Over my dead body!” Levi has a chilling though. “If I could get him to assign me my inheritance, then I could at least see how much he loves me.” He decides to do that first thing in the morning.
At breakfast, before heading out to the fields Levi tells his father that he has something important he wants to talk over with him. “Certainly”, James says, “we can talk in my office after breakfast.” Levi has been rehearsing in his mind exactly how to ask his father for the best result.
Breakfast is over and Levi and James are sitting in James’ office. Levi looks nervous as he begins. “Father, I know this is a little out of the ordinary, but I wanted to ask a favor of you. With the new baby coming, I would really appreciate you putting down in writing our portions of the inheritance. I’m not trying to be insensitive but you are getting older and if you want to make any special provisions you should probably do so now.”
James is surprised by Levi’s request at first, but then he considers what Levi said about special provisions. It is true that he is getting on in age, but he is nowhere near his final days. Still, if Levi felt compelled to bring this up, he must have a good reason. James loves Levi dearly and does all he knows how to show him that love. Levi has been acting more and more irritable since Philip married. Maybe this would be a way for James to show Levi how much he loves and trusts him. “I appreciate you bringing your concerns to me Levi. Let me think the matter over and get back to you by the end of the day.”
Levi leaves his father’s study and heads out into the field. He has to be patient a little longer. The day proceeds as so many before it have; Levi and Philip working in the fields. Philip directing Levi and the servants in what to do. Levi acting like just another hired hand. “Not after today”, thinks Levi. “Tomorrow I’m going to take my place in the lead.” If all goes as planned, Levi’s father will break the estate in two and Levi will insist he supervise his own inheritance and let Philip try and get along without his help. No more answering to Philip. Or so Levi hopes.
After the evening meal James asks Levi and Philip to join him in his office. Once all are assembled, James gets right to the point. “Philip, Levi brought up a matter this morning that I felt was worth considering. He pointed out that I am getting older and that your baby is due soon. He thought it might be a good time for me to put down on paper what each of you will receive as your inheritance.”
“Father, surely you are not considering this. You are still very healthy and have many years to make this kind of decision.”
“I agree Philip, I am in fine health. But Levi has made some fine points in his argument that I am inclined to agree with. Therefore, I have decided to honor his request. Philip, as the eldest son, you will receive the double portion, according to our customs. Levi will receive His portion as well. But I am holding a small portion aside for any grandchildren. It will be equally divided amongst all my grandchildren at the time of my passing. So my estate will be divided as thus: Philip, you will receive 60% of my property. Levi, you will receive 30% and a trust of 10% will be held for the grandchildren.”
“Thank you father. That is very generous. Don’t you agree Levi?”
“Father, would you be willing to let me know which parcels would be included in my portion”, asks Levi.
James thinks for a few moments before showing Levi and Philip exactly where the boundary lines of each of the inheritances would lie. Levi is satisfied and nods his approval. “Thank you father for indulging my concerns.” Afterward, all retire for the evening.
Life continues as normal for the next few days, but Levi is silently thinking about his portion. He wants to work on “his property” and increase its value. He wants to be in charge. He wants out from under Philip. On the fifth day, Levi decides it’s time to take things a little farther in his plan for independence. He is going to ask his father to allow him to take a few of the servants and work on his property to improve its yield.
Early the next morning Levi again approaches his father. “Father, I have some ideas as to how I could increase the yield on the fields you have assigned me as my portion of my inheritance. With your permission, I would like to try implementing some of my ideas. I feel that I have learned a lot working under Philip and would like a chance to manage a few of the servants on my own. What better place for me to try my hand at being a manager than on the property that would fall to me eventually. This way if I succeed, I will benefit and if I fail, I alone would incur that loss.”
James agrees that it is time Levi was given an opportunity to show his skills. He assigns ten servants to work under Levi and gives him his blessing. Levi is excited by the opportunity and quickly begins making plans for his portion of the land. James informs Philip of Levi’s new role and quietly asks Philip to keep an eye on Levi, so he can lend him help if the need arises.
Levi encounters difficulties managing the men. They are used to taking orders from Philip and are unsure where they stand with Levi. His ideas are novel and they don’t know who will be blamed if Levi’s changes don’t work as he plans. They have noticed Philip’s interest in what is going on and are more than willing to tell him of Levi’s plans and their progress. Levi is not blind to this and it infuriates him. How dare Philip try and take over! This is HIS property! After a week of this, Levi decided it’s time he did something a little bolder.
Two days before his 25th birthday Levi again asks his father for a private meeting. Secluded in James’ office Levi begins to lay out his difficulties. “Father the men don’t respect me as their boss. They say that I am “only pretending” because Philip continues to look over my shoulder at every turn. They also know the land belongs to you. If I am to truly have a chance to prove myself, I need to fully receive my inheritance now. Only then can I command the respect of the workers as a true landowner. I know this is an unusual request, but I believe this is my only chance to make something of my land and my future. This could be your gift to me on my birthday.”
“This is indeed an unexpected request. Let me think it over. You will have your answer on your birthday, one way or the other. But if I do this for you, I will need to do the same for your brother.”
“I understand father. I await your decision. I pray you understand my concerns as well.”
The morning of Levi’s birthday dawn and he is up before anyone else. He hardly slept last night thinking about what his father might decide. Is this the day he starts his new life as a man or the day he goes back to being a boy under his brother’s thumb?
James tells Levi and Philip that he would like to see them both in his study following breakfast. After all are assembled, James shares with Philip Levi’s request. “Surely you are not considering this father! Levi, you have taken this too far. It wasn’t enough for you to have father divide his property while still in his prime. Now you want to take it right out of his hands! How could you even propose such a thing?”
“Please Philip, I know this is irregular but Levi has made some fine point in his argument again. I have decided to do as he requested. I have signed over ownership of your inheritance to both of you. The land is yours to manage as you each see fit.”
“Thank you father. You will not regret this decision”, said Levi.
“I want no part of this father. I will receive my inheritance at the proper time. I do not wish to rush you to your grave.” Philip gets up and gives Levi a look of disgust as he leaves the room.
Levi, head held high, makes his way proudly to his newly acquired property. Today is the start of his new life!
Word quickly spreads through the servants of Levi’s new “status.” Many of the servants are as upset about Levi’s behavior as Philip is. They refuse to work for him. Levi is forced to seek new servants or do all the work himself. This is not something he bargained for, but as the landowner he has to solve his own issues.
Levi goes to town in search of new workers. It appears that word of how he obtained his inheritance early has spread here too. Levi was only able to find three men willing to work for him. These men were NOT his first choice, but he has no other options.
After two days working with the three men willing to accept the position, it is clear to Levi that he is in trouble. The men are lazy, have no idea what they are doing, and are stealing from his fields. Now what should he do? He is more miserable now than when he made his first request to his father. Nothing is as it should be. It would be better if he simply left. But how would he live? How would he support himself? Wait! His father actually signed the land over to him legally, so… he can do whatever he likes with it! If he sells it he can get enough money to live on for the rest of his life! And he can get away from Philip and this half existence he has been living!
Levi goes into town early the next morning and refuses to leave until he has completed the sale of HIS property. Levi had to settle for a little less than he thought was fair, but at least he is free now. Free of his brother. Free of his father. Free of ALL his obligations. Free to do as HE pleases.
Levi rushes home and packs his belongings. At first light he takes everything he can load onto a donkey and sets off on his new life. He decides to go as far away as he can get. He doesn’t want to run into anyone who knew him before. He wants complete anonymity.
Levi is star struck by the sights and sounds of the big city. This is the life he was meant to live! Fine dining. New friends coming out of the woodwork. Parties every night. Sleeping until noon. Things go along this way for a couple of years. But then Levi’s money starts running low. As his money dries up so do his friends.
To make matters worse, the country where Levi chose to settle has been experiencing a drought for the past eighteen months. Crops all over have failed and there is a serious shortage on food supplies. What food there is has tripled in cost. Levi doesn’t even have enough money to buy bread for the week. Out of desperation he decided to ask some of his friends for help. They all told him that they had nothing to spare after feeding their families.
Hungry and scared, Levi looks for work. He has skills as a laborer. He should be able to find something. Levi scours the countryside looking for anyone willing to hire him. With no rain and no crops, no one has any money to hire another hand.
After searching for four days, Levi comes to the home of a pig farmer. Levi is desperate! He has to find work or he will starve to death. The farmer agrees to hire Levi for a paltry sum. Not nearly enough to buy bread to fill his stomach, but it is at least enough to keep him alive. Every day Levi cleans the hogs pens, freshens their bedding and feeds them their meals. At night he accepts his coins and goes in search of food for himself. As the famine continues the price of bread continues to rise. After a month Levi isn’t able to afford a morsel on the salary he is receiving. It takes him three days to make enough to buy a quarter of a loaf of bread. This isn’t even enough for a single meal. Prices continue to climb and the days between meals stretch out too.
One day, as Levi is feeding the hogs their food, his mouth begins to water. He is looking at their dinner with hungry eyes. He hasn’t eaten in nearly a week. Who would know if he kept some of their food for himself? As he reaches his hand toward the trough one of the hogs nearly bites him! Levi falls back in fear. “What am I doing?! I could have been killed! These pigs would have trampled me and eaten me alive. But I’m so hungry!”
Levi, sitting in the mud where he fell begins to think of his home. He thinks of his father and how he hurt him. He remembers the look of disgust on his brother’s face when his father sighed over his inheritance. He is so ashamed of his behavior. He stole his father’s land right out of his hands. He dishonored God by selling what God had given his family. He had been jealous and coveted his brother’s life. Sins against God and his family. He deserved death.
Then Levi remembers the servants on his father’s property. They have clothes to wear that are not full of holes. They have a warm place to sleep every night. They have decent pay every day. And they have food to eat every meal. He decides right then that he is going to go back. The first thing he needs to do is to ask his father to forgive him for all that he has done to him. If his father can find it in his heart to allow him to be a servant in his home he will live the rest of his life trying to make up for all the grief he has cause his father.
Levi sets out towards father’s home. He no longer calls it his home, because of his guilt. There is no donkey carrying his belongings any more. He has no belongings left, only the clothes on his back; such as they are. He has no food for his journey or money to buy food. All he has is a little bit of hope that his father will have a place for one more servant. Filthy, tattered, and half-starved Levi makes his way home.
“Over that next rise…” Levi stumbles ever onward. He will be able to see his father’s home as soon as he tops the next rise. Levi tops the rise and lifts his eyes to take in the sight of his father’s home. It looks more beautiful than he remembered. Levi notices someone running toward him coming from his father’s home. As the person approaches he recognizes his father’s face. Levi falls to his knees. His heart is heavy with grief and fear. As his father nears him, Levi cries out, “Father, I’m so sorry! Please forgive me!”
Before Levi can get another word out his father is falling on the ground beside him and enveloping him in his arms. Tears are streaming down both faces. “Father, I’ve sinned against Heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (verse 21).
James pulls Levi to his feet and begins walking him towards home. James has not released his arms from around Levi. He is holding his long lost son. As they get closer James shouts out to a servant who had followed him to bring the best robe, a ring and shoes for his son and to put them on him. He told a second servant to go out and kill the fattest calf and get it ready for a celebration. “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (verse 24).
Levi is in awe of his father’s reaction. He tries to protest and say again how he is not worthy of such an honor but James will have none of it. Levi is led into his old room where a bath and clean clothes are laid out for him. He cries tears of joy as he washes and prays for forgiveness from God too. Levi vows to serve his father faithfully for the rest of his life.
The servants have adopted James’ attitude and the celebration is beyond belief. Levi is alive again and all is as it should be. Levi looks for Philip but doesn’t see him. Levi wants to tell him how sorry he is also. He knows he has sinned against Philip too. He prays that Philip will accept his apologies too. At one point James leaves the celebration but he returns after a short absence.
Levi crawls into bed that night with hope for tomorrow and a promise to his father and God to fulfill. He will serve his father in any way his father sees fit for the rest of his life. He will honor God by honoring his father. Tomorrow he will seek out his brother and fall before him too.
Father God, Levi went out an angry man and came home a broken one. I have taken this path in a few areas of my life. So proud of what I thought I could do, only to find that I had created a disaster. I had to recognize that my own sins had brought me to where I was. It was some of the ugliest times in my life. You protected me during them. More importantly to me is that You also protected my children while I “wallowed with the pigs.” They still received some scars from those places, but even these You have used in their lives for Your purposes. Thank You Lord for wrapping me in Your arms when I came home. Thank You for allowing me to be broken. I would not have recognized my sin without that breaking. Thank You for continuing to call to me while I was wallowing. Thank You for reminding me what waited at home. Thank You for Your forgiveness and for restoring our relationship. I love You Father ane want to serve you in any way You see fit for the rest of my life.