What person having…..parables of the lost and found

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 166...

Context.  Many commentators locate these three parables (Luke 15) within a larger section of Luke that asks the question “who will participate in the reign of God?” (13:10-17:10). The section includes the foundational formation of the disciples – but often via the encounter with the Pharisees in which the assumptions of right relationship with God are put to the question.  At issue is the question of fellowship in the community of God’s people. The setting for teaching about this fellowship is so often the meal setting where questions of boundaries and community play out in terms of admission, honor, and hospitality.  So often in this section the characters with the pericopes and parables are those who should attract respect and honor according to the conventional wisdom, yet within the parables of casualties of a reversal of values and misfortunes: “For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (13:30).  The gospel text for his week immediately follows the unit of saying on the reversals in the Reign of God (13:10-14:35).  Joel Green outlines the reversal sayings as follows:

Luke               Section Title
13:10-21          The Unsettling Presence of the Kingdom
13:22-30          Who Will Be Saved?
13:33-35          The Intertwined Fates of Jesus and Jerusalem
14:1-24            The Kingdom and the Banquet
Jesus heals an insatiable thirst
Recasting meal etiquette
A wealthy householder and his invitation list
14:25-35          The Conditions of Discipleship

Central to participation in the kingdom is the position of the poor and marginalized. Jesus’ teaching in chapters 14 and 16 (which includes the parable of Lazarus and the rich man) regarding the import of welcoming into one’s homes those who live on the margins of society – “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (25:24; cf. 25:32; 26:30) – underscores the central question raised in 15:1-32.

The Readings

Parable of the Lost Sheep

1 The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, 2 but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So to them he addressed this parable.  4 “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?  5 And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy 6 and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

Parable of the Lost Coin

8 “Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ 10 In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Parable of the Prodigal Son  (which was read the 4th Sunday in Lent, Year C)

11 Then he said, “A man had two sons,  12 and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them.  13 After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.  14 When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.  15 So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.  16 And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.  17 Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.  18 I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  19 I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”‘  20 So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.  21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’  22 But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  23 Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast,  24 because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.  25 Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing.  26 He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.  27 The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’  28 He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him.  29 He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.  30 But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’  31 He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.  32 But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’” 

Commentary

The three parables of Luke 15 repeat the themes of the previous chapters as they respond to the Pharisees grumbling over Jesus’ sharing table fellowship with sinner (v.1). The common themes that link the parables internally are evidenced in the repetition of the words “lost” (apóllymi) and “found” (heurískō). The themes of joy and celebration also recurs in all three parables – and this is in specific response to repentance. Theologically they are also linked in the two persistent themes presented: (a) Jesus’ ministry seen in the open invitation to the table and (b) the use of the parables for people to reflect on their own attitude towards sinners and the “other.” These two loci point to repentance as key in the divine economy of salvation.

Table Companions

There is often a rush to the parables without considering the opening verses: “The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him,but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain…” (vv.1-2).  The first group – those not considered among the righteous by the Pharisees – are persons in need of forgiveness, restoration and the good news. In Luke’s gospel they are the ones who hear (cf. 14:35). The Pharisees are increasingly represented as resisting Jesus’ words and complaining about his ministry of table fellowship and reconciliation. Their complaints echo against the wisdom of Jesus in 14:15-24 describing the emptiness of honor at banquets. This man welcomes sinners and eats with them – this is the central charge that Jesus answers in the parables that follow.

Celebrating the Lost and Now Found

Each of the first two parables:

  • Identifies the main character
  • Describes the loss and subsequent search
  • Narrates the recovery of that which was lost
  • Describes the rejoicing with friends and neighbors
  • Closes with Jesus connecting such celebration with the heavenly rejoicing over the repentance  of a sinner.

Jesus addresses his listeners directly: “What man among you …?” What he suggests all will do in going after the one lost sheep is actually not what many of us would do, but the attractiveness of this extravagant individual concern makes the listener want to agree. In a split second we are drawn into God’s world, seeing and acting as he would. The description of the shepherd echoes Ezek. 34:11–12, 16:

11 For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. 12 As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark…16 The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal, shepherding them rightly.

The shepherd’s joy is like God’s joy; his dedication to the individual sheep, carrying it back to the flock, is a reflection of God’s love. The joy in heaven is over the change of heart (metanoia: cf. 3:3; 5:32) of the sinner. The phrase “have no need of repentance” is ironic and tragic (cf. 5:32; 7:47).

A different image is used in a second parable to the same effect. The woman has lost one of her ten drachmas, Greek silver coins. She turns her house upside down in search of this one coin in ten. Perhaps it was part of her dowry and thus had added sentimental value. Her joy is like the joy in heaven over one repentant sinner. It needs to be shared. It is too great for one person. She and the shepherd invite their friends and neighbors for the thanksgiving party. What about the other nine silver pieces and the ninety-nine sheep — are they not important, too? Surely, but the joy of the kingdom breaks out of the ordinary categories of reason and good business. What was given up as lost has been found. It is like a new life, a resurrection, and must be celebrated.

Clearly these first two parables are fundamentally about God and their aim to reveal the nature of the divine response to the recovery of the lost. A question that then lingers from the context of their telling, is how will the listener respond?  Will the listener join the celebration? These first two parables are silent to this implied question, but not so the third parable – the father celebrates, but not so the older son.

The Prodigal Son

The traditional title of the parable focuses on the younger son who left home, yet it is the father who is the central figure. Perhaps a better title would be “The Parable of a Father’s Love.” The parable, the longest in the Gospels, consists of three main parts: (1) the departure of the younger son to a distant land where he squanders his inheritance (vv.11-19), (2) the homecoming of the son and welcome by his father (vv.20-24), and (3) the episode between the father and the older son who stayed at home (vv.25-32).  How this parable differs is that what is lost is a human person – one who has existing human relationships with his father and his brother.  The younger son’s metanioa is not simply a change of his mind in absence of these relationships. Repentance necessarily involves those relationships.

A Note about Jewish Inheritance Customs.  The relationships with the Father is the central axis of the parable, yet it is good to know something about inheritance customs. In the ancient world, not less than now, a person’s property is transferred at death. Fathers were discouraged from distributing inheritance during their lifetime (Sirach 33:20-24). But if he did, a father still was entitled to live off the proceeds while he lived. This can be seen in the following wisdom advise:

To son or wife, to brother or friend, do not give power over yourself, as long as you live; and do not give your property to another, lest you change your mind and must ask for it. At the time when you end the days of your life, in the hours of death, distribute your inheritance (Ecclesiasticus 33:19-23).

Other scripture includes that according to Deuteronomy 21:17, the firstborn son was to inherit twice as much as any other heir. The Jewish Mishna, which was probably developing in the time of Jesus, gives this rule: “If one assign in writing his estate to his son to become his after his death, the father cannot sell it since it is conveyed to his son, and the son cannot sell it because it is under the father’s control” (Baba Bathra viii.7). Even if a father decided to divide up his property among his heirs, neither the father nor the heirs could dispose of the property while the father was still alive.

In our parable, the younger son presumes upon the father’s prerogative and initiates the events with his request for his inheritance.  Not only did he ask for his inheritance, which was bad enough, but he did something that was unthinkable and contrary to scripture and custom: he sold his inheritance, converted it to money (see note on 15:13) and moved to Gentile lands. The younger son’s actions spoke volume. By demanding his share and leaving, the younger son is cutting his ties with his family, with no regrets. He takes everything with him; there is no reasonable hope that he will be back. His departure with a substantial share of the family estate also means a loss to his father and brother, adding to the latter’s animosity.

The Departure of the Younger Son. The parable begins with the younger son asking for what he considers his share of the inheritance – something that is for the father to decide. In the asking, the son communicates that he does not view the inheritance as a gift given because of his father’s good graces; rather he sees it as his due.

Kenneth Bailey, a NT scholar who lived for years in the Middle East, asked many people in the Near East cultures how one is to understand the younger son’s request.  The answer is consistent and harsh: the son would rather have his father dead so as to gain the inheritance. In an honor/shame society it would be appropriate to ask, “What father having been asked by a son to give him inheritance…” Again the Lucan answer is not the answer of the society. The father grants the request. Where the younger son asks for “the share of your estate (ousia) that should come to me.” Luke tells us that the father “divided between them his property (bios, literally “life” – see note on 15:12).”

Imagination can fill in the familiar story line that is compressed with great economy: the extravagant spending, the attraction of freeloading friends, the crash. It should be noted that the young man squandered (diaskorpizo) the money. This does not imply a use for immoral reasons (which the brother suggests in v.30), but rather a thoughtless use of the funds.  The term “dissipation’ (asotos) does imply immoral choices. There is a loss of his mindfulness and his moral compass.  But there is more

The family rejection which began in his request, heightened when he goes to a foreign, gentile land, becomes even more disparate.  He attached his life and fortune to a Gentile family – and not as son and heir, but as servant. He is penniless and reduced to tending swine for the Gentiles.  For the Hebrew, caring for pigs (Lv 11:7 and Dt 14:8) evoked the idea of apostasy and the loss of everything that once identified the younger son as a member of his family and of God’s people. He is even lower than the swine — they have access to the husks, but he does not. “He has reaped the bitter fruit of his foolishness.” (Culpepper, 302)

The Beginning of the Return. The conversion begins in the muck and mud of the pig pen. It is there that he “came to himself.” While there is ambiguity in the moment, the trajectory of the story points to the moment of coming to point of desire to return home – the place where he has a place to be whom God calls him to be.  The moment shows the human capacity to renounce foolishness, to begin anew to reclaim one’s heritage and potential. Calamity finally brings him to his senses. He understands that he has no claim on his father and no right to be called  son.  But if not a son, then he will return to his home as a hired servant. He carefully rehearses his speech: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”

He is not seeking to reclaim what he has renounced. Yet he knows that he, in any condition or circumstance, returning to the Father and his father. It is a classic penitential moment: address, confession, contrition, and a petition of healing.

After “coming to himself,” he rises and returns to his father. At this point in the narrative the focus shifts to his father

The Homecoming of the Son and Welcome by His Father.  Tashjian notes “As Westerners we cannot really understand what the father has done unless we put ourselves in the context of Eastern culture and way of thinking. The son had dishonored his father and the village by taking everything and leaving. When he returns in tattered clothes, bare-footed and semi-starved, he would have to get to the family residence by walking through the narrow streets of the village and facing the raised eye-brows, the cold stares, the disgusted looks of the town people. So when the son is still far off, before he has entered the outskirts of the village, the father sees him and decides immediately what he must do. In compassion for his son and to spare him the pain of walking through the gauntlet of the town alone, he runs to him, falls on his neck, and kisses him.”

As the earlier parables had asked, “What father would do such a thing? Already being shamed by the actions of his impudent son, again shaming himself by running through the town making a spectacle of himself.”  But this father has been keeping vigil and sees his son coming “a long way off.” Anything but coolly reserved, he runs to meet his son, hugging and kissing him. What father would do this? Human? Likely, none. But no other image comes closer to describing the character of God.

The son has “addressed, confessed and expressed contrition” but can get to the petition. He cannot get through his rehearsed speech. Ironically he does complete the “confessional” part of the speech, but the reconciliatory part is not the son’s role, but rather that of the Father, who makes his intentions immediately known: “Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.” These show that the young man’s father fully accepted him as his son. The robes and the ring were signs of high position in the family. Sandals showed that he was a son instead of a slave, since slaves did not usually wear sandals. There is no thought of recrimination, no policy of making the young man prove himself worthy. The only important thing is that he is alive. The son himself is more important than anything he has done: “because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.

One curious element of this portion of the parable is this: did the father interrupt the son before the young man reached the “hired worker” portion of the prepared speech? Or did the young man simply stop, already seeing the action of his father to run to him, perhaps the joy on his face, and come to know that he was already forgiven and restored as a member of the family?

The Episode Between the Father and the Older Son Who Stayed at Home. The story would be complete as it stands with the return of the prodigal son and the father’s open-armed acceptance. But another story interlocks with this one. The elder son’s anger and self-righteousness make him resentful; not even the return of his brother will make him share the family celebration. Here we again refer to the vv.1-2 and opening table scene between Jesus and the Pharisees.  Like the Pharisees, the older son has social norms and propriety on his side – the younger son has shamed his father and deserves to be shunned rather than rewarding such dishonorable behavior with a feast.

The tragedy here is that while the older son has never left home, never disobeyed, and has “slaved” faithfully – he has also never felt rewarded and thus resents the father’s joy at his brother’s return. Ironically, the older son acts outside the social norms as he refuses to go the father and enter the house, “calls out” his father, and then does not address him as “Father.” Once again the father has to leave the house to go out a meet one of his sons.

In contrast to joy, the older son feels anger or rage which is freely expressed in every gesture (refusal to enter the house) and word (his responses to his father). The anger he feels for his father is transferred to his brother. The older son has not only failed to recognize his privileged position with his father, but he is also blind to the fact that his father offers him the same constant care and concern – the father, again shaming himself, comes out to him also, seeking what is being lost.

Again the pivot is the father’s love. He goes out to the elder son as he went out to the younger. He wants both of them to be happy. The elder son cannot see beyond propriety and is trapped in his own righteousness. The father does not deny the faithfulness of his elder son. He implies that all that is beside the point at this special moment. Something far more important is going on: a son and brother has returned from the dead. Everything else fades before that fact: “But now we must celebrate and rejoice!” Within the father’s words are this key message: “one cannot be a son without also being a brother.”

The father has extended unconditional forgiveness to both sons prior to their repentance. Despite each son’s contemptuous behavior, the father assures them they are loved and belong. The attitude of the father is not determined by their attitude, but by his own attitude.  Martin Luther’s first theses was that “the entire life of the believer should be one of repentance.”  While doctrinally correct, it is not achievable in human effort. Even the mostly stoutly religious, in the end, must rely on the grace of God.  When all is said and done in this life, having lived well or no, one must leave all in the hands of a merciful and gracious God.

Final Thoughts

Adolescent rebellion, alienation from family, appeal of the new and foreign, the consequence of “prodigal” living, warmth of home remembered, the experience of self-awareness, repentance, the joy of reunion, the power of forgiveness, the completeness of love: this story has it all. It contains stories we have seen too often in life – people demanding their own rights before they learn to value their relationships rooted in love.  People taking umbrage at love’s generosity claiming there should be an underlying quid pro quo. People being tempted to let one’s rejection become reciprocal, to respond in kind. And in the midst of it, the father offering unearned reconciliation to all parties, to celebrate with lavish joy.

In the conclusions to the parables, it is clear that all of heaven is rejoicing. Will we rejoice with the heavenly host over sinners being found and repenting? Culpepper (Luke, 298) ends his commentary on this text with:

In both parables, rejoicing calls for celebration, and the note of celebration may be exaggerated to emphasize the point. Neither sheep nor coins can repent, but the parable aims not at calling the “sinners” to repentance but at calling the “righteous” to join the celebration. Whether one will join the celebration is all-important because it reveals whether one’s relationships are based on merit or mercy. Those who find God’s mercy offensive cannot celebrate with the angels when a sinner repents. Thus they exclude themselves from God’s grace.

Culpepper includes this Jewish story to illustrate a truth of our text:

A Jewish story tells of the good fortune of a hardworking farmer. The Lord appeared to this farmer and granted him three wishes, but with the condition that whatever the Lord did for the farmer would be given double to his neighbor. The farmer, scarcely believing his good fortune, wished for a hundred cattle. Immediately he received a hundred cattle, and he was overjoyed until he saw that his neighbor had two hundred. So he wished for a hundred acres of land, and again he was filled with joy until he saw that his neighbor had two hundred acres of land. Rather than celebrating God’s goodness, the farmer could not escape feeling jealous and slighted because his neighbor had received more than he. Finally, he stated his third wish: that God would strike him blind in one eye. And God wept.

He concludes: “Only those who can celebrate God’s grace to others can experience that mercy themselves.” (298)

Notes

Luke 15:1 listen to him: The purpose of this simple phrase with the word listen/hear (akoúō) identifies this group as the ones who are responding to the challenge of 14:35 – “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”

Luke 15:2 and eats with them: synesthio. This phrase should echo the entire of Luke 14, the preceding chapter in which table fellowship is one of the central controversies of the narrative.

Luke 15:4 what man among you: the man refers to someone who is a shepherd. Commentaries are divided on what to make of the occupational reference. Some hold that shepherds were considered to be looked down upon as people not worthy of trust. Thus the listener is ironically asked to associate themselves with the unclean.  Others hold that given there were 100 sheep, this is clearly a wealthy owner-shepherd.  Thus the listener is given to draw comparisons with the promised Good Shepherd of Ezekiel 34. Another argument for the “wealthy man” assumption is that the parable that follows represents a “poor woman.” This contrast has been a pattern in Luke’s telling of the gospel story (cf.  1:6-7; 2:25-38; 4:25-27; et. al.)

lostapóllymi The literal meaning is “to destroy,” “kill,” in battle or prison; – or “to suffer loss or lose”; “to perish”;  “to be lost” (cf. Lk. 15). The three parables are told from God’s standpoint and while the meaning used is more passive in our English translation “lost” as in wandered off, in the Greek it can be understood as “lost” in the war between good and evil.

Luke 15:6 joy…Rejoice: The words used in these parables are all from the same root word that gives us Eucharist – chaírō (to rejoice), chará (joy), synchaírō (to rejoice with).

Luke 15:8 coins: drachma, a silver coin worth about a day’s wage

light a lamp: assuming her house is typical of the times, there are no windows, hence the need to light a lamp even during the daytime.

Luke 15:12 share of your estate: literally “the share of the property (ousia) that falls to me”

divided his property between them: where in the first part of the verse Luke uses ousia, here the word bios (life) is used.  Some scholars point out there is precedence for the ousia and bios being synonyms for the word “property.”  I would suggest this play on words points to as aspect, not the most important for sure, but an aspect of the story that involves inheritance laws and traditions in the ancient Near East.

Luke 15:13 collected all his belongings: literally, “after gathering everything together.” This identical phrase is used in the works of Plutarch (Cato Min. 6.7) that means converting everything to silver. It is likely, given his travels, to have converted his inheritance into money.

a distant country: indicating a psychological as well as geographical distancing.

squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation: diaskorpizo (squandered) does not imply a use for immoral reasons (which the brother suggests in v.30), but rather a thoughtless use of the funds. Yet the term “dissipation” – asostos – is used 3 other places in the NT and  it refers to drunkenness, licentiousness, passion, carousing and lawless idolatry.

Luke 15:14 a severe famine: Biblical literature suggests that this was a frequent occurrence in an area in which agriculture was always a hazardous enterprise. In any case it hastens the son’s return home

Luke 15:15 to tend the swine: As in the story of the Gadarene demoniac (8:32), the herd of pigs represents something unclean for the Jews ( cf. Lev 11:7; 14:8). To tend the pigs of a Gentile is as alienated as a Jew could imagine. Raising pigs was forbidden by the Mishnah.

Luke 15:17 Coming to his senses: literally, “came to himself.” It should be noted that Luke does not use his normal word for repentance – a word he uses over 25 times in his writings. One might argue that this is the son’s moment of repentance, but a more likely suggestion is that the young man is not in misery because of his sense of sin, but because he has fallen on hard times.  The young man is not repentant, but practical.

hired workers: misthos, refers to day laborers, i.e., people without steady employment, who have no ongoing relationship to a particular farm or family. This status would be even less than an indentured servant.

Luke 15:18 I have sinned…no longer deserve…treat me: The planned three-fold statement is (a) a confession of guilt, (b) admission of the destroying the father-son relationship, and (c) a possible solution for the father’s plight.  But one wonders what the young man thought his sin was?  His insolence? His realization that he is unable to provide for his own father in the father’s retirement years?

Luke 15:19 your hired workers: The contrast here is between a member of the family (and heir to the property) and a misthios, and hired laborer with claim of permanence. Notice in v.22 that the father calls to one of the doulos (servant or slave) to wait upon the returned son.  In v.29 “all these years I served you” incorporates the noun douleúō “to serve as a slave.”

Luke 15:20 filled with compassion: compassion (splanchnizomai) occurs a dozen times and only the Gospels. Elsewhere the term expresses the divine compassion of God.

ran…embraced…kissed:  Even thought the father has compassion, the proper response would be for him to let the young man fall to his knees and humble himself before his father. The father would respond with forgiveness and a review of the new expectations – in other words, probation. The father’s action lack the expected decorum. In some Arabic translations of this parable, the translators refuse to describe the father as “running” so inappropriate and shameful is the action. The literal translation of what follows is the father “fell upon his neck” and began to kataphiléō (kiss passionately).  The kiss as a sign of reconciliation and forgiveness can be seen in the encounter between Esau and Jacob (Gen 33:4) and in David’s kiss for Absalom (2 Sam 14:33).

Luke 15:22 finest robe…a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet: indicate that the young man’s status is as that of a member of the household and not that of a servant. The description of the robe could also be suitably translated as “most prominent robe.”  There are texts which indicate that the giving of the ring means the prodigal son has supplanted the older brother as the heir (cf. Gen 41:42,; 1 Macc 6:15, Esther 3:10; 8:2).  The sandals are a sign of freedom and mastry. In the semitic languages, the most formal of greetings literally translates as “I hold your feet,” the action of a slave to his master.

Luke 15:23 the fatted calf: Meat was not part of the daily diet. The whole animal would have to be eaten in a short time or the meat would spoil, so the father is expecting a large group. Perhaps the whole village will be invited. The father is not planning a quiet family gathering but is making a public gesture to proclaim his acceptance of his son so that the whole community will follow suit.

Luke 15:24 dead…come to life…lost…found: A son who dies and is foud again can not but have deeper resonances for Chrsitian readers of all ages and times.

Luke 15:25 in the field: the older son is hardworking and loyal.  Note that he is not told of his brother’s arrival, but on his way home realizes the there is a festive celebration already underway.

Luke 15:27 safe and sound: The meaning of the Greek word is to be healthy, to be sound. But it is also the word that the Septuagint uses to translate the Hebrew word shalom, peace, which is much more than physical health.

Luke 15:29 note that the older son never greets or addresses his father as “father.” This is in contrast to his prodigal brother in v.27.

served you: douleuo is derived from the Greek doulos, a slave. The older son does not see his own status as son, but sees himself even lower than the servants/hired hands (misthios; vv.17, 19) called to prepare the feast. In Greek the verb is rendered in the present tense giving the sense that the son stills feels bound in slavery. Such an expression by the oldest son reveals great bitterness.

not once did I disobey your commands: within the Gospel, these words point to the attitudes of the Pharisees and scribes who did not need “repentance” as they kept Moses’ law.

never gave me even a young goat: the language again reflects the older son’s bitterness. The eriphos (kid goat) is in comparison to the fatted calf (moschos) of v.23 prepared for the the prodigal son. The former is a more common and cheaper commodity.  But also note that the kid goat was for celebration with his friends, not his father.  He is alienated even though he never left home.

Luke 15:30 your son: He does not say “my brother” but literally says “this son of yours here, the one who…” The language is angry and distancing. In vv.29-30 the older son has essentially excoriates his father for not being grateful for his obedience and so tries to humiliate and shame his father.

Luke 15:31 my son: despite the abusive and shameful words, the father does address his oldest as technon, a term perhaps better translated as “beloved child.”

you are here with me always; everything I have is yours: Where the oldest saw himself as a “slave” the father affirms he is companion and co-owner of all that the father has.

Luke 15:32 your brother: subtly the father corrects the older one’s “this son of yours..” to remind him that the one who has returned, been restored, is also in relationship with the whole of the family.

with prostitutes: The older son provides a lurid, imagined version of the younger son’s ways while abroad – something the narrative had not given. Is this an echo within the parable of the charges levied against Jesus and the disciples for those with whom they would share table fellowship?

Sources

Commentaries

  • R. Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) pp. 294-305
  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997) pp. 568-86
  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 234-42
  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) p.963-4
  • Leon Morris,. Luke: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 3: (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988) pp. 254-6
  • G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI;  Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic;  Apollos, 2007) pp. 341-3
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com

Dictionaries

  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995, c1985).

A. Oepke, apóllymi , , Vol. I, pp. 394-97
W. Zimmerli, chaírō (to rejoice), chará (joy), synchaírō (to rejoice with), Vol. IX, 376-87

Scripture –  Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. ©

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