The young man was forced to accept a demeaning job, feeding and caring for swine, in order to survive. He had sinned against his father and was beginning to pay the price. However, verses 17-19 indicate he had begun awakening to the reality of his sinful actions and their rightful consequences. In short, he is ready to repent.
It is important to note that the prodigal son did not escape the consequences of his actions—he had sinned against God—but God humbled him and opened his eyes. Then verse 20 indicates how willing his father—representing God—was to forgive and show compassion even before the son had the chance to utter the words that he had prepared to tell him. God, we learn, looks upon the heart.
Ted E. Bowling
The Elder Brother
The Parable of the Prodigal Son unveils a clear progression from awareness of pain arising from want and recognition of sin then on to sorrow for what he had become and done. Repentance, forgiveness, and acceptance were the fruit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Three: Mourning
Scripture pictures sinfulness as a path of folly and madness, and repentance as restoration to sound-mindedness. "When he came to himself" is commonly applied to a person who recovers from being deranged. Jesus indicates that the folly of the younger son is a type of insanity, as it is with all sinners: A kind of madness is in their hearts (Ecclesiastes 9:3). They are at odds with God, indulging in evil obsessions, contrary to their better judgment. Vincent's Word Studies explains, "This striking expression—came to himself—puts the state of rebellion against God as a kind of madness. It is a wonderful stroke of art, to represent the beginning of repentance as the return of a sound consciousness." Misery and desperation may stimulate reason in a sinner when he comes to himself. Once the younger son comes to realize his distorted and unrealistic view of himself and humbly repents, he can be restored to sonship (II Corinthians 7:10-12).
Martin G. Collins
Parables of Luke 15 (Part Three)
The question at this point is still, "How are we trying to find satisfaction in life?" We could reword it, "How are we trying to find love, joy, and peace?" The Parable of the Prodigal Son touches on this issue.
Like the young man, we yearn for a feeling of well-being, peace, security, fun, and happiness. Also like him, we pursue after them, attempting to produce them in virtually every way but the Father's way. We, like him, experience the same empty, hollow, something-is-missing feelings.
Some may remember a popular song of a few decades ago sung by Peggy Lee titled "Is That All There Is?" The lyrics dealt with this very subject. The singer recounts having tried so many supposedly exciting and fulfilling things in life yet having found no lasting satisfaction in any of them. Following each experience, she concludes by asking the question, "Is that all there is?" The song clearly expresses that such a life is not truly fulfilling.
What is missing from such a life is the true purpose of life combined with the effort of fulfilling it by living the required way. The three offerings in Leviticus 1-3—the burnt, meal, and peace offerings—broadly define God's way of life: doing all things within the context of His purpose in love. As we have seen, I John 5:3 defines love as keeping the commandments, and the essence of love is sacrificial giving.
Though without the Spirit of God, some people (psychologists, for instance) have figured out much of this. The part they have not determined through observing humanity is the true purpose of life because God has not revealed it to them. They have, however, found that the essence of love is sacrifice and that doing the right things produces a sense of well-being.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Four): The Peace Offering
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Luke 15:17: