Blogging Towards Sunday, March 10, 2013
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 | 4th Sunday of Lent
This week’s reading is perhaps one of the most well known of the parables of Jesus. It’s often called the “Prodigal Son” and yet when you read the whole of Luke 15 it becomes obvious that both sons in the parable are lost, much like the coin and the sheep in the parables recounted in Luke 15:4-10. We all feel lost at times. But we don’t always feel found. That’s what these parables are wrestling with, coming home, finding our way home.
Theological Themes, Interesting Points & Inter-textual links.
The larger context Luke 15:1-10
The chapter starts with complaints and criticize by the religious leader of Jesus, not for what he is saying, but for what he is doing. He’s welcoming and eating with sinners, or “unrighteous” or “unclean” folks. He’s not just giving them food, he seems to be hosting them. Such eating with, or table fellowship [as some scholars call it] doesn’t seem to us in our culture to be such a big deal, but it is.
“To understand what Jesus was doing in eating with ’sinners,’ it is important to realize that in the east, even today, to invite a man to a meal was an honor. It was an offer of peace, trust, brotherhood and forgiveness; in short, sharing a table meant sharing life… Thus Jesus’ meals with the publicans, and sinners…are an expression of the mission and message of Jesus (Mark 2:17), eschatological means, anticipatory celebrations of the feast in the end-time (Matthew 8:11 for example) in which the community of the saints is already being represented (Mark 2:19). The inclusion of sinners in the community of salvation, achieve in table-fellowship, is the most meaningful expression of the message of the redeeming love of God” – Kenneth Bailey, Poet & Peasant.
This chapter, containing three parables about lost things being found…a sheep, a coin, sons proceeds from this encounter progressing each parable to something that is of greater value, and central to the home.
The main parable Luke 15:11-32
- The parable isn’t an allegory. The father isn’t God. And yet the way in which the father loves is a symbol of the way in which God loves us.
- The son in asking for his part of the inheritance before the death of his father, is committing the most disrespectful act a child could do. Ironically the father, who has the right to cut the son off, acquiesces and gives him what he wishes. But the older son too is in the wrong. For he remains silent, indicating a rejection of his responsibility to reconcile his brother to his father. In this cultural context – family, not money – is everything. The request of the younger son, and the silence of the older son, point to the truth that neither of them have a right relationship with their father.
- A far country, indicates that it’s not a Jewish land. The son becomes so destitute and desperate that he eats the food of unclean animals: pigs. The word unclean is a synonym of sinner, or unrighteous, like the word used to describe those whom Jesus welcomes in Luke 15:1-3.
- The prodigal (or lost) son isn’t described as immoral, but wasteful. Ironically when starving, no matter how much he eats, he cannot be filled. He cannot save himself.
- Swallowing his pride, he returns home. The father runs across the village to welcome him. This is an extravagantly counter-cultural action. What was proper was to shun the son, who wasn’t lost, but who had cut himself off from his own people. The father’s extravagant love risks the judgment and criticism of his neighbors. The father’s grace brings the shame and humiliation of the son upon himself. His kiss on the cheek is a sign not just of acceptance, but of equality.
- A calf is only slaughtered for the marriage of the eldest son, or the visit of the governor of the province, or something along those lines. It definitely was not done for a humiliated black sheep of the family. The father not only celebrates the son’s return, he invites the whole village with music to join the feast.
- The eldest son quarrels with the father, publically he humiliates his father in front of his esteemed guest. Rather than publically shame his father, he should, could have waited until everyone was gone to argue or ask for an explanation. The relationship between the eldest son and the father at the end of the parable, is similar to that of the younger son and the father at the beginning.
Questions for wondering and exploring:
1. What troubles you and/or encourages you in these texts? Why? How does it contain good news for us?
2. What do you hear Jesus saying about God’s love and our love for one another through this parable? What is he saying to his time? (think of the context of Luke 15:1-3)? What does it mean for us today?
3. What is the connection between the three parables in Luke 15?
4. How is this parable word still pertinent and life-giving for us in our culture today?
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