Parable of The Prodigal Son
The prodigal son narrative has become part of our lexicon. The term “prodigal son” has also been applied to a variety of behaviours including being lost and found.
Wrongly Interpreted Often Times.
Three wise men (kings) are said to have visited Mary and Joseph at the time of Jesus’ birth. These facts and occurrences have been passed down the generations, and the same stories have been repeated several times. However, the more familiar a tale becomes, the more likely it is to take on meanings that aren’t necessarily present. However, nowhere in the Bible does it state that there were three wise men. They were not kings (magi were astrologers or magicians), and they did not appear at the Bethlehem nativity scene until many months later. Many readers have imprinted distinctive ways of perceiving some of these Bible stories in their brains over time, even if they do not correlate exactly to the text.
Many of the specifics in the prodigal son narrative are probably not what we thought they were. A close look at Luke 15 will uncover some intriguing concepts that will change the way we think about this well-known tale. Let’s look at the tale in Luke, which is the only place in the gospels where it is found.
The tale of the lost son delivered by Jesus is merely one portion of a bigger narrative he presented to his audience. Take a close look at verse 3 of Chapter 15. “Then Jesus told them “this parable,” not “these parables,” it states. Both singular terms are used in the translation. One parable was what He was about to say.
The Pharisees and professors of the law chastised Jesus for his readiness to associate with and eat with tax collectors and sinners. The reader expects the tale that follows to be a well-planned, academic presentation designed to persuade his well-informed, intellectual audience of His point of view. These groups were the only ones to whom Jesus spoke, not the entire multitude.
What do these three stories in Luke 15 have in common?
>In each story, something is lost and then found (sheep, coin, son)
>In each story, there is a special finder or hero (shepherd, woman, and father)
>Each story ends with a party, with people and food involved.
>In each story, there is a price to be paid.
Jesus intended for his parables to be interpreted as a single, three-part story with a single point. In these three parables, Christ appears to be saying, “You accuse me of dining with sinners.” You are totally correct, and I agree! But I’m also prepared to go looking for them, bring them back, kiss them, and dress them up in good clothing just so I may share their joy.
Viewing Through A Cultural Perspective
In this narrative, a wealthy man’s younger son requests an inheritance while his father is still alive and appears to be in good condition. The desire for inheritance appears selfish from our modern-day western perspective, yet it is not wholly out of limits. In Middle Eastern society, however, it would be more accurate to state that the son is looking forward to his father’s death! He would have brought great dishonour to himself and his family, not to mention the agony of prematurely separating the family business’s tangible and functioning assets.
What Man Will Permit Such Request From A Son?
Any human father would, of course, be expected to refuse his selfish son’s request for an early inheritance. Instead, however, this action elevates the father figure and reshapes the father into a metaphor for God. This father is different from a human father and his love and compassion for his son know no limits. The father severs the relationship between the son and his father and only deepens when the son sells the family property.
Let’s now have a look at the setting for this narrative. This parable is frequently seen as a narrative centred solely on the three major characters. It’s as though the narrative is set on a high ridge in complete solitude, with only the father and his two boys there. However, agricultural land was limited in Bible times, and family farms were small. Farmers never lived on their farms since it would be a waste to build on good soil. Instead, people lived in insulas, tiny, compact settlements where they worked in their fields. The Lost Son story, like the preceding two Lost Sheep and Lost Coin stories, takes place in an isolated hamlet. Family members and close relatives made up these insulas, and everyone knew each other well. Grandpas, grandmas, aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as other neighbours, surrounded the children as they grew up. When the loss is discovered in both stories, the community is gathered together for a celebration.
After receiving his half of the inheritance, the son works rapidly to sell it in order to get out of the hamlet as soon as possible. He would have been threatened with expulsion from the Jewish community at this time, according to Jewish tradition. When the prodigal goes, he understands that he must return with all of his inherited money intact, or he would face public humiliation and be cut off from his family and history.
We’ve discovered how rare and unimaginable it was for the son to want something that would cost his family so much anguish and disgrace. We’ve also learned how difficult it was for the father to grant the request, and how God-like it was for him to do so. However, the connection between the father and his son was strained as a result of the procedure, and his image in the community was tarnished.
Turn His Inheritance Into Cash, He Sets Out For A Distant Country.
Following the receipt of an inheritance, the prodigal son leaves out for a faraway land that is unmistakably not Jewish. Going home, back to his own people, would have been the wise thing to do. “He has gone as far away from his family and God as he can possibly get,” the narrator says by moving to a Gentile nation and working for a Gentile feeding his pigs.
The NIV renders Luke 15:17 as “When he came to his senses,” whereas the KJV renders it as “And when he came upon himself.” “He repented” is the most common translation. If this statement is interpreted as repentance, the theological consistency of Luke 15’s three “lost” episodes is shattered. In the first two stories, repentance is just “acceptance of being discovered.”
What does Jesus mean in Luke 15 when he says, “He grew wise,” “He thought to himself,” and “He developed an interest in himself”? To put it another way, the prodigal must devise a strategy to rescue himself from this predicament, which he accomplishes. This phrase’s Middle Eastern and Arabic interpretations offer a very different image. They never see him repenting and returning to his father; instead, they imagine him returning to himself.
The Pharisees and professors of the law who were hearing this tale were familiar with the prodigal son parable. His remarks bear no sorrow; he simply wants to eat! As verse 17 shows (bread enough to spare), his father’s hired men apparently produced enough money to have some savings. If the son can recoup the lost money by working for his father, he will feel reconciled and will have worked his way back. He was attempting to come up with a way to appease his father’s predicted rage and persuade him to allow him to return to the family farm.
The prodigal thinks it’s merely a question of lost money or a broken rule, but the actual sin is his father’s damaged connection. The son has done everything wrong up to this point, and now he has a strategy for getting back into his father’s good graces. Grace isn’t required if he can handle things on his own.
Decision To Return To The Father.
The Son returns home empty-handed, having insulted his family and is a complete failure in every way. However, the father is so concerned about his missing kid that he has already devised a strategy to save him. No one will treat his kid unfairly if he can reconcile with his son in public. In order to attain this purpose, the father must disgrace himself in front of everyone.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus breaks the role of a middle-aged eastern patriarch and takes his long robes in his hand and runs through the crowded streets out to the edge of the village to meet his pig herder son. Out of great compassion, he empties himself and becomes a servant and runs to reconcile with his son. Traditional middle eastern men, wearing long robes, never run in public, because to do so would expose their legs. This was unheard of!
In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus’ father falls on his neck and begins to kiss him before he hears his son’s prepared speech. The young man is totally surprised and is only able to get out the first part of his speech. He changes his mind about trying to work his father’s love and surrenders his plan to save himself. Instead of having to confess, make compensation and demonstrate sincerity to restore the sinner to God’s favour, Jesus is saying, “I’ve been waiting for you”.
In the parable of the lost sheep and coin, the father must hunt for his missing kid in the same way as the wife looks for her misplaced coin. In a manner that no other Biblical literature can equal, the picture of God and Jesus as parents in this tale demonstrates their compassion, love, and life-changing form in a way that no other Biblical writing can. At the enormous expense, Jesus, as the Father, provides forgiveness to each sinner.
The Banquet And The Older Son’s Anger.
After the father meets and reconciles with his lost son, he orders a banquet to be held. We usually think that the banquet is to honour the son. But is it a celebration of the prodigal’s successful efforts at reaching home on his own? Or is it in honour of the father’s costly efforts to find and save his son?
The older son has a real problem with the idea of grace being given to the younger brother. Why didn’t he have to pay back all the money he lost before his father took him back? He wasn’t having to pay for his sins! Grace is not only amazing but unbelievable! How can it be true? Don’t we get what we pay for?
The older son refuses to participate in the celebration and attacks both his father and brother in public. A western cultural equivalent would be to have a shouting match with your father at a wedding. What will the father do? Culture would expect that the father would explode and reprimand the older son for the dishonour he has caused. However, again the father is willing to offer a costly demonstration of his unearned love. Only now it is offered to the law keeper instead of the lawbreaker!
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asks his younger son whether he will accept his father’s offer of costly, unearned love or whether he should reject it.
We wrap up our study of Luke 15’s stories by going back to the beginning and trying to summarize what we’ve learned. This fable has been named “Evangelium in Evangelio” (the gospel inside the gospel) by the Latin tradition for hundreds of years. We have realized that the tradition is marvellously true, but we had to do a lot of digging and seeking, similar to an archaeologist, to unearth that reality.
When a young man wanted to get his inheritance while his father was still living, he was effectively saying, “I cannot wait for you to die,” in Middle Eastern culture. The father would have felt humiliated by this request, and he would have been expected to flatly decline it. The father, on the other hand, agrees to his son’s request. The kid breaks up with his lovely father, cashes in his chips, and flees to a faraway nation to do things “his way.”
The story is telling us in an obvious Jewish manner that he has gone as far away from his family and God as he can possibly get. When his son arrives in the far country, he quickly loses all his inheritance by making poor decisions. He has to work for a Gentile feeding his pigs just to survive. He came up with a plan to try to get back into his father’s good graces. If he can just come up with the right words, maybe his father will take him back.
The story of a parent rescuing his wayward son who has been missing for over a year on the outskirts of his hamlet. After generously expressing his grace, the father falls on his neck and begins to kiss his lost kid. The son didn’t have to pay anything to be redeemed; all he needed was his father’s grace!
The older son, who is a law-keeper, is mad because he thinks there should be some compensation for the law-breaking younger son. Grace was offered without the requirements of the law being met in this parable. In fact, at the end of the story, grace was offered to both sons and grace was extended to both.
“Evangelium in Evangelio” paints a beautiful picture of God as a caring parent who will go to any length to reclaim us. We won’t be able to pay our way back because he has already paid it all, and at a huge personal sacrifice! He is always on the lookout, assuming the position of a servant and waiting to rush up to us and freely share His grace. When we accept His grace, He sits at the table with us and eats with us to complete the reconciliation. This is the gospel message, and it is beautifully depicted in this narrative by our Lord Jesus Christ, the great storyteller.
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