As I learned from Bruce Jorgensen, it is important to read the parables of Luke 15 together. Consider the setting that Luke gives us in verses 1-2 and then imagine Jesus telling each of these parables in response to what happens in those verses: he hears the Pharisees and the scribes complaining because he eats with sinners, so he tells the parable of the lost sheep; evidently they don’t understand his point because he immediately tells another parable, that of the lost coin—I imagine a silent pause after the first parable, with Jesus waiting for the Pharisees and scribes to respond; they seem not to understand the second one either, so he tells them a third, more complicated parable, the parable that we often call “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.”
As I learned from Arthur Henry King, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” is a strange name for this parable. It draws our attention to one of two sons and neglects the father, yet the parable is clearly about both sons (else there would be no point in the parable continuing past the announcement of the feast) and the father is clearly central to the parable’s meaning. Arthur suggested instead “The Parable of a Father and His Two Sons.” I think that is a better name.
Verses 1-2: Why would the publicans and sinners have come to hear Jesus? Why does it bother the Pharisees and the scribes that Jesus eats with publicans and tax collectors?