“There was once a Man,” he told them, “who had two sons: and the younger of them said one day, “Father, give me my share of your riches now, and let me do with it what I please? The father granting his request, he traveled away with his money into a distant country, and soon spent it in riotous living.
When he had spent all, there came a time, through all that country, of great public distress and famine, when there was no bread, and when the corn, and the grass, and all the things that grow in the ground were all dried up and blighted. The Prodigal Son fell into such distress and hunger, that he hired himself out as a servant to feed swine in the fields. And he would have been glad to eat, even the poor coarse husks that the swine were fed with, but his Master gave him none. In this distress, he said to himself, “How many of my father’s servants have bread enough, and to spare, while I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father! I have sinned against Heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called Thy Son!”
And so he traveled back again, in great pain and sorrow and difficulty, to his father’s house. When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and knew him in the midst of all his rags and misery, and ran towards him, and wept, and fell upon his neck, and kissed him. And he told his servants to clothe his poor repentant Son in the best robes, and to make a great feast to celebrate his return. Which was done; and they began to be merry.
But the eldest Son, who had been in the field and knew nothing of his brother’s return, coming to the house and hearing the music and Dancing, called to one of the Servants, and asked him what it meant. To this the Servant made answer that his brother had come home, and that his father was joyful because of his return. At this, the elder brother was angry and would not go into the house; so the father, hearing of it, came out to persuade him.
“Father”, said the elder brother, “you do not treat me justly, to shew so much joy for my younger brother’s return. For these many years I have remained with you constantly, and have been true to you, yet you have never made a feast for me. But when my younger brother returns, who has been prodigal, and riotous, and spent his money in many bad ways, you are full of delight, and the whole house makes merry!”—“Son” returned the father, “you have always been with me, and all I have is yours. But we thought your brother dead, and he is alive. He was lost, and he is found; and it is natural and right that we should be merry for his unexpected return to his old home.”
By this, our Savior meant to teach, that those who have done wrong and forgotten God, are always welcome to him and will always receive his mercy, if they will only return to Him in sorrow for the sin of which they have been guilty.
Now the Pharisees received these lessons from our Savior, scornfully; for they were rich, and covetous, and thought themselves superior to all mankind. As a warning to them, Christ related this Parable:
OF DIVES AND LAZARUS
“There was a certain man who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores and desiring to be fed with crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, the dogs came and licked his sores.
“And it came to pass that the Beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom—Abraham had been a very good man who lived many years before that time, and was then in Heaven. The rich man also died, and was buried. And in Hell, he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus. And he cried and said, “Father Abraham have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Son, remember that in thy life time thou received good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things. But now, he is comforted, and thou art tormented!”
And among other Parables, Christ said to these same Pharisees, because of their pride, That two men once went up into the Temple, to pray; of whom, one was a Pharisee, and one a Publican. The Pharisee said, “God I thank Thee, that I am not unjust as other men are, or bad as this Publican is!” The Publican, standing afar off, would not lift up his eyes to Heaven, but struck his breast, and only said, “God be merciful to me, a Sinner!” And God,—our Savior told them—would be merciful to that man rather than the other, and would be better pleased with his prayer, because he made it with a humble and lowly heart.
The Pharisees were so angry at being taught these things, that they employed some spies to ask Our Savior questions, and try to entrap Him into saying something which was against the Law. The Emperor of that country, who was called Caesar, having commanded tribute-money to be regularly paid to him by the people, and being cruel against any one who disputed his right to it, these spies thought they might, perhaps, induce our Savior to say it was an unjust payment, and so to bring himself under the Emperor’s displeasure. Therefore, pretending to be very humble, they came to Him and said, “Master you teach the word of God rightly, and do not respect persons on account of their wealth or high station. Tell us, is it lawful that we should pay tribute to Caesar?”
Christ, who knew their thoughts, replied, “Why do you ask? Shew me a penny.” They did so. “Whose image, and whose name, is this upon it?” he asked them. They said, “Caesar’s.” “Then,” said He, “Render unto Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s.”
So they left him; very much enraged and disappointed that they could not entrap Him. But our Savior knew their hearts and thoughts, as well as He knew that other men were conspiring against him, and that he would soon be put to Death.
As he was teaching them thus, he sat near the Public Treasury, where people as they passed along the street, were accustomed to drop money into a box for the poor; and many rich persons, passing while Jesus sat there, had put in a great deal of money. At last there came a poor Widow who dropped in two mites, each half a farthing in value, and then went quietly away. Jesus, seeing her do this as he rose to leave the place, called his disciples about him, and said to them that that poor widow had been more truly charitable than all the rest who had given money that day; for the others were rich and would never miss what they had given, but she was very poor, and had given those two mites which might have bought her bread to eat.
Let us never forget what the poor widow did, when we think we are charitable.