The Missing Character
by Rick McFarland
"But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry.’” —Luke 15:22-23
The story of the prodigal son is one of the most beloved parables of Jesus. Most often in looking at this parable, the focus is on the prodigal son who left his father for the pleasures of sin but was reconciled to his father by grace.
Others who look at this story, focus on the father. The father's love and desire to bless his son never changed, even though the son left. He showed the heart of God toward those who have strayed from Him.
Still, others focus upon the elder brother who was laboring in the fields. He felt he deserved the father’s blessings because of his obedience. He judged His brother and deemed him unworthy of sonship and blessing.
If you ask people who the central character to this story is, you get different answers. Some say the prodigal son, some say the father, and some even say the elder brother. However, there is a missing figure that I believe is the central figure of this story. I want to focus upon the fatted calf! He gave up more than anyone else for this celebration by the way!
The father had the family robe, family ring, and family sandals brought out, but also he had the fatted calf killed. The usual word for “kill” in the NT is the Greek word apokteino. However, the word used for “kill” here for killing the fatted calf is thuo. This word means “to sacrifice.”
This word was used for sacrificing the Passover lamb. The fatted calf represents Jesus in the story. He is always the central figure. The prodigal son was received back to God with the sacrifice of the fatted calf.
The Father provided the fatted calf to both his sons. The elder brother rejected the fatted calf. He could have had the fatted calf the whole time but was slaving away for a goat!
The fatted calf is mentioned three times in the story. The number three is the number for Jesus and His redemption. He is the central figure to the story.