The Prodigal Son – part 2

The Departure of the Younger Son. This is a post that continues the thought in an earlier post today about our Sunday gospel specifically considering the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Earlier today we began our look into the details of the parable of the Prodigal Son. This post continues our look. 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 a 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)

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