The Prodigal Son

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But those biblically literate listeners were in for a surprise in this parable when the younger son turns out not to be the righteous Abel, faithful Isaac, or clever Jacob but an irresponsible, self-indulgent, and probably indulged child. To ask, as the younger son does, for his share of an inheritance indicates a potential lack of wisdom, but it is not a sin. It was not particularly unusual then, nor is it even now. Had the prodigal sinned in asking his father for his inheritance and that is unlikely , then the father should have reproved the boy.

The younger son mirrors Joseph in his move to a foreign land, his increasing degradation, and then his elevation to an elite position. Without a word of leave-taking, the prodigal cuts himself off from his family, friends, neighbors, and homeland, and he heads to a region where love of strangers was not in the law code. There he proves himself prodigal: And going, he became joined to one of the citizens of that region, and he sent him into his fields to feed pigs.

Jews in the Diaspora welcomed gentiles into their synagogues, worked with gentiles in the marketplaces, talked to gentiles in the public baths. At the time of Jesus, there were probably more Jews living outside Judea and lower Galilee than there were in the Jewish homeland; over a million were in Alexandria in Egypt. Nor should we charge him, as some commentators do, with apostasy. Second, he was sent to feed the pigs, not to butcher them. Third, the son hired himself out to a citizen; there is no indication that he knew his task would be to feed pigs.

Finally, the son did what he did in order to live; Jewish law is law by which one lives, not by which one dies. The prodigal is in an impossible situation, but the issue is not Jewish xenophobia or purity. The problem is starvation. A proverb from the rabbinic commentary Leviticus Rabbah Junior speaks of his sin and his desire for restoration to the household, albeit on lesser terms as a day laborer rather than a beloved son.

His rehearsed lines sound contrite.

What the Prodigal Son story doesn't mean

Thus, for many readers who, influenced by Luke, see the parable as about repenting and forgiving, Junior is understood to have repented. And yet first-century listeners may have heard not contrition but conniving. Junior recalls that Daddy still has money, and he might be able to get more. In his planning, the prodigal and the narrator repeat the term father: Father, I have sinned.

In his thoughts, the prodigal also puts himself in the company of the self-absorbed figures in other parables. His conclusion is to build more barns, not to distribute his food to the poor. His conclusion is to draw others into his dishonesty. All four parables use the device of interior monologue to let listeners know what the characters are thinking, and in all cases what they are thinking leads to at best morally ambiguous action.

Luke ESV - The Parable of the Prodigal Son - And - Bible Gateway

Before the prodigal gets to his rehearsed speech, his dad runs to welcome him. His compassion need not be taken as a surprising reaction; there is no reason to expect the father to be a detached patriarch who would show neither care nor compassion. Rather, his compassion should remind us of the Samaritan, who saw a wounded man and reacted with compassion; it is the same reaction Jesus himself has when he sees the funeral procession of the only son of a widow.

The term indicates recognition that one who might be considered dead could become alive. He has left his honor behind, his position, his community standing. From these already overstated observations, the comments, not unexpectedly, descend into a negative picture of Judaism over and against which Jesus shines ever more brightly. Our parable offers no hint of it. Jewish fathers of the first century were not, at least according to the sources we have which should be the sources that inform our history , distant or wrathful.

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Thus, children ask fathers for bread, and the dads provide. We find numerous fathers seeking healing for their children: In the same way, God too.


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Luke 15:11-32

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    John MacArthur/Prodigal Son Sermon

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