Author Topic: Parable of the Prodigal Son  (Read 1309 times)

Rev. Edward Engelbrecht

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Parable of the Prodigal Son
« on: March 26, 2022, 11:33:05 AM »
Our lectionary includes Jesus' longest parable and arguably the most popular and familiar. Any fresh takes on this classic story from the Lord?
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Dan Fienen

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Re: Parable of the Prodigal Son
« Reply #1 on: March 26, 2022, 11:53:45 AM »
I can't say that it is really a new take on the Prodigal Son, but I highly recommend the insights from Kenneth E. Bailey in The Cross and the Prodigal, CPH 1973, and Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes (combined volume) Eerdmans 1983. A couple of his insights: by asking for his inheritance, the younger son is implicitly stating that he wishes his father dead and out of his way to his inheritance, the sacrifice that the father made in shedding his dignity and running to his son so that his son would not have to face along the scorn of the village, and that it really should be the Prodigal Sons since both sons were lost. The point of the parable is really the second son who disobeyed his father and rejected his brother. Look at the context.
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Matt Hummel

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Re: Parable of the Prodigal Son
« Reply #2 on: March 26, 2022, 12:01:04 PM »
Look at the language for (hired) servants.

Was the son truly repentant? To use Catholic language, are we seeing perfect or imperfect contrition?

Also- prior to social media how does Big brother know baby brother spent the money on prostitutes?

My sophomores have been working on this parable.
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Richard Johnson

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Re: Parable of the Prodigal Son
« Reply #3 on: March 26, 2022, 12:05:44 PM »
In studying this recently, it occurred to me that when the father says to the elder son "All I have is yours," he means that quite literally: the younger son has already taken his inheritance, so everything left will go to the elder son. This might shed light on the elder son's reaction; he may be afraid the father will end up giving the younger son an additional share from what is rightfully his own.

I think it was Mark Allen Powell who told the story of asking an international group why the younger son was reduced to being with the pigs. Westerners in the group said "because he squandered his money." Eastern Europeans (former Soviet bloc) said "Because there was a famine." Africans said "Because no one would help him." All of those actually explicit in the story, but the difference in perspective is striking.
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Charles Austin

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Re: Parable of the Prodigal Son
« Reply #4 on: March 26, 2022, 12:36:55 PM »
Pastor Fienen:
 A couple of his insights: by asking for his inheritance, the younger son is implicitly stating that he wishes his father dead and out of his way to his inheritance,

Me:
I believe that take on the story originated with father Robert Farrar Capon, an Episcopal priest, cookbook-writing chef, and author of novels that never became best sellers. The point of the parable is the party, and the people at the party are those who have died and then been born again. And the fatted lamb dies in order that there may be food for the feast.
Retired ELCA Pastor. Former national staff Lutheran Church in America And the Lutheran world Federation, Geneva. Former journalist. Now retired and living in Minneapolis.

D. Engebretson

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Re: Parable of the Prodigal Son
« Reply #5 on: March 26, 2022, 12:58:34 PM »
Pastor Fienen:
 A couple of his insights: by asking for his inheritance, the younger son is implicitly stating that he wishes his father dead and out of his way to his inheritance,

Me:
I believe that take on the story originated with father Robert Farrar Capon, an Episcopal priest, cookbook-writing chef, and author of novels that never became best sellers. The point of the parable is the party, and the people at the party are those who have died and then been born again. And the fatted lamb dies in order that there may be food for the feast.

Dr. Art Just in his Concordia Commentary attributes this to K. Bailey's analysis in Poet and Peasant.
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Dan Fienen

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Re: Parable of the Prodigal Son
« Reply #6 on: March 26, 2022, 01:03:28 PM »
Pastor Fienen:
 A couple of his insights: by asking for his inheritance, the younger son is implicitly stating that he wishes his father dead and out of his way to his inheritance,

Me:
I believe that take on the story originated with father Robert Farrar Capon, an Episcopal priest, cookbook-writing chef, and author of novels that never became best sellers. The point of the parable is the party, and the people at the party are those who have died and then been born again. And the fatted lamb dies in order that there may be food for the feast.

Dr. Art Just in his Concordia Commentary attributes this to K. Bailey's analysis in Poet and Peasant.
I would think it not beyond the realm of possibility that one read it in the other, or that each came up with that take independently. K. Bailey attributed much of his understanding of this as well as others of Jesus' parables to his studies of and experiences with Middle Eastern Bedouins.
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J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Parable of the Prodigal Son
« Reply #7 on: March 26, 2022, 01:16:47 PM »
Pastor Fienen:
 A couple of his insights: by asking for his inheritance, the younger son is implicitly stating that he wishes his father dead and out of his way to his inheritance,

Me:
I believe that take on the story originated with father Robert Farrar Capon, an Episcopal priest, cookbook-writing chef, and author of novels that never became best sellers. The point of the parable is the party, and the people at the party are those who have died and then been born again. And the fatted lamb dies in order that there may be food for the feast.

Fr. Capon states that there are at least three deaths involved with this parable:

1)  The implicit death of the father through the younger son's impudent wish for his early inheritance
2)  The death to sin and self experienced by the younger son while in the pigsty.
3)  The death of the fatted calf.

Fr. Capon strongly suggests that there is a fourth death:  The older son who refuses to die to his uncharitable thoughts toward 'that son of yours".

In the Orthodox Church the Sunday of the Prodigal is the second of the Triodion Sundays which prepare us for Great Lent.  Hymnody reflecting on this parable continues to permeate the Lenten season, as evidenced by this sticheron which was used in the PreSanctified Divine Liturgy of this past Wednesday:

Quote

A prodigal son am I;
I left into a far country of evil and wrongly spent  the wealth You,
O merciful Father, gave to me.
Hungry, I waste away  from a dearth of virtue;
You can see that I am clothed in shame of all my trespasses,
naked as I am of Your grace divine.
I cry to You that I have sinned;
yet I know Your love and benevolence.
Christ, at the entreaties of Your Apostles by whom You were loved,
 accept me back in repentance now  as one of Your hired hands.

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Re: Parable of the Prodigal Son
« Reply #8 on: March 26, 2022, 01:33:39 PM »
And it is the fourth “death,” the other son, who is not at the father’s party. It is those who are reborn who get to the party.
Retired ELCA Pastor. Former national staff Lutheran Church in America And the Lutheran world Federation, Geneva. Former journalist. Now retired and living in Minneapolis.

peter_speckhard

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Re: Parable of the Prodigal Son
« Reply #9 on: March 26, 2022, 01:37:49 PM »
I like to focus on the discussion with the older son, who refers to the younger as “this son of yours” but the father turns it back on him by referring to the younger as “this, your brother.” I use it when teaching the intro to the Lord’s Prayer and why it begins with the plural, Our. The point is that you can’t claim a relationship with your Father while rejecting a relationship with His other children, the Church.

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Re: Parable of the Prodigal Son
« Reply #10 on: March 26, 2022, 02:14:09 PM »
In studying this recently, it occurred to me that when the father says to the elder son "All I have is yours," he means that quite literally: the younger son has already taken his inheritance, so everything left will go to the elder son. This might shed light on the elder son's reaction; he may be afraid the father will end up giving the younger son an additional share from what is rightfully his own.

I think it was Mark Allen Powell who told the story of asking an international group why the younger son was reduced to being with the pigs. Westerners in the group said "because he squandered his money." Eastern Europeans (former Soviet bloc) said "Because there was a famine." Africans said "Because no one would help him." All of those actually explicit in the story, but the difference in perspective is striking.

From my "notes" on this text in re. to Powell:

Mark Allan Powell has done some cross-cultural studies with this text. He writes about them in Chasing the Eastern Star: Adventures in Biblical Reader Response Criticism and in What Do They Hear? Bridging the Gap Between Pulpit and Pew. When he asked 100 Americans to retell the story in their own words, all 100 recalled “squandering his money.” Only six mentioned the famine. When he did the same thing with 50 Russian students, 84% mentioned the famine. 34% mentioned squandering.

Generally, he writes, “The younger son is typically portrayed as foolish in Eastern cultures and as wicked or immoral in Western ones” (What Do They Hear?, p. 19). This difference in emphasis also comes up in how the groups understand the conversion that takes place. Westerners tend to emphasize the reforming of the younger son. The turn-about happens when he decides to make a change in his life. The story is interpreted more from the viewpoint of the son.

Easterners put more emphasis on recovery. The lost was found. The dead is alive. The estranged family member is back home. The story is interpreted more from the viewpoint of the father (p. 24). As I noted above, the family is whole again (mostly).

What Powell found even more interesting and surprising to him (and to me) is the way Tanzanians responded. After reading the story, Powell asked, “Why does the young man end up starving in the pigpen?” About 80% answered: “Because no one gave him anything to eat.” For these Africans, the story “is less about personal repentance than it is about society. Specifically, it is about the kingdom of God. It contrasts the father’s house with the far country. The father’s house is the kingdom of God that Jesus keeps talking about, but the far country is a society without honor.” (pp. 26-27) God’s kingdom is where people help each other – especially those in need.

All of these are reasons given in the text, but the background of the reader tends to make one more predominate than the others.


Another theme from the context was e-mailed me by a friend, relaying what Rev. Rafael Malpica-Padilla, who was the ELCA Director for the Division for Global Missions, had said about these stories. He picked up on the idea that the numbers 10 and 100 are numbers of fullness or completeness; thus 9 and 99 are incomplete. While three (father and two sons) is also a complete number, one could also approach it as any family with a child who is missing is incomplete. I’ve visited with elderly parents who have an empty hole in their heart over the death of a child. It was difficult, especially for my wife, the first time we celebrated Christmas without our sons coming “home”. There was something incomplete about Christmas.

Amy-Jill Levine (Short Stories by Jesus) also picks up this theme. She writes about the shepherd: “For him, the missing sheep, whether it is one of a hundred or a million, makes the flock incomplete” (p. 41); and of the widow: “As the flock of one hundred is incomplete at ninety-nine, so the silver coin collection is incomplete at nine” (p. 43).

An implication of this is that congregations, rather than thinking of the unchurched as “the lost” whom need to be found or “the lost” who need to find their way back home (which also means that we consider ourselves as “the found,” usually as being better than those who are “lost,”); we might consider that the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church (or the Kingdom of God) is incomplete without everyone for whom Christ has died. In other words, we need others to be part of the family of God to make it complete just as much as they need to become part of new life God offers his children.

Our congregations are incomplete when we don’t reflect the neighborhoods where we are located. We are handicapped when we don’t have the wisdom and experiences of those who are different than us. We can’t see the whole picture without the insights God has given them through their unique experiences.

It may be, especially in connection with the earlier parables in this chapter of finders seeking what was lost, that the key to this parable is about the father leaving the party to seek out the son who wasn't there. He is also a son that the father had lost, but never realized it.  He had disappeared. He wasn’t invited to the party – probably not intentionally – but just overlooked. It is much like the shepherd coming to realize a sheep is missing or the widow realizing that a coin was missing. The father realized that a son was missing from the party. The party is not complete without both sons being present. The father goes out to seek the lost son.

The slave’s response in v. 27 reminds the older son of the relationships: “Your brother” and “your father.” The older son will not use these terms. He seems to indicate his relationship with his father as that of an obedient slave (v. 29). When talking to his father, he refers to “this son of yours” (v. 30). However, the father reminds him of these relationships: in v. 31: He calls him “child” and in v. 32, says: “this brother of yours.”

The father is seeking to reestablish the proper relationship between himself and his older son; and as Culpepper writes: “In the world of the parable, one cannot be a son without also being a brother.” [p. 304]

"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Dave Likeness

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Re: Parable of the Prodigal Son
« Reply #11 on: March 26, 2022, 03:30:15 PM »
Fred Craddock in his commentary on Luke, has an appropriate title:
"The Parable of the Loving Father" The focus is on the love, forgiveness,
and joy of the father. The father had two sons, he loved two sons, and
was generous to two sons.

Frederick Danker in his commentary on Luke emphases: The Parable
of the Lost, Elderly Brother"  He could not call his younger sibling,
my brother.  Instead, with contempt he calls him the son of his father.
The elder son attempts to cut his father's heart to shreds, but he is
unsuccessful.

Dave Benke

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Re: Parable of the Prodigal Son
« Reply #12 on: March 26, 2022, 03:41:42 PM »
In studying this recently, it occurred to me that when the father says to the elder son "All I have is yours," he means that quite literally: the younger son has already taken his inheritance, so everything left will go to the elder son. This might shed light on the elder son's reaction; he may be afraid the father will end up giving the younger son an additional share from what is rightfully his own.

I think it was Mark Allen Powell who told the story of asking an international group why the younger son was reduced to being with the pigs. Westerners in the group said "because he squandered his money." Eastern Europeans (former Soviet bloc) said "Because there was a famine." Africans said "Because no one would help him." All of those actually explicit in the story, but the difference in perspective is striking.

From my "notes" on this text in re. to Powell:

Mark Allan Powell has done some cross-cultural studies with this text. He writes about them in Chasing the Eastern Star: Adventures in Biblical Reader Response Criticism and in What Do They Hear? Bridging the Gap Between Pulpit and Pew. When he asked 100 Americans to retell the story in their own words, all 100 recalled “squandering his money.” Only six mentioned the famine. When he did the same thing with 50 Russian students, 84% mentioned the famine. 34% mentioned squandering.

Generally, he writes, “The younger son is typically portrayed as foolish in Eastern cultures and as wicked or immoral in Western ones” (What Do They Hear?, p. 19). This difference in emphasis also comes up in how the groups understand the conversion that takes place. Westerners tend to emphasize the reforming of the younger son. The turn-about happens when he decides to make a change in his life. The story is interpreted more from the viewpoint of the son.

Easterners put more emphasis on recovery. The lost was found. The dead is alive. The estranged family member is back home. The story is interpreted more from the viewpoint of the father (p. 24). As I noted above, the family is whole again (mostly).

What Powell found even more interesting and surprising to him (and to me) is the way Tanzanians responded. After reading the story, Powell asked, “Why does the young man end up starving in the pigpen?” About 80% answered: “Because no one gave him anything to eat.” For these Africans, the story “is less about personal repentance than it is about society. Specifically, it is about the kingdom of God. It contrasts the father’s house with the far country. The father’s house is the kingdom of God that Jesus keeps talking about, but the far country is a society without honor.” (pp. 26-27) God’s kingdom is where people help each other – especially those in need.

All of these are reasons given in the text, but the background of the reader tends to make one more predominate than the others.


Another theme from the context was e-mailed me by a friend, relaying what Rev. Rafael Malpica-Padilla, who was the ELCA Director for the Division for Global Missions, had said about these stories. He picked up on the idea that the numbers 10 and 100 are numbers of fullness or completeness; thus 9 and 99 are incomplete. While three (father and two sons) is also a complete number, one could also approach it as any family with a child who is missing is incomplete. I’ve visited with elderly parents who have an empty hole in their heart over the death of a child. It was difficult, especially for my wife, the first time we celebrated Christmas without our sons coming “home”. There was something incomplete about Christmas.

Amy-Jill Levine (Short Stories by Jesus) also picks up this theme. She writes about the shepherd: “For him, the missing sheep, whether it is one of a hundred or a million, makes the flock incomplete” (p. 41); and of the widow: “As the flock of one hundred is incomplete at ninety-nine, so the silver coin collection is incomplete at nine” (p. 43).

An implication of this is that congregations, rather than thinking of the unchurched as “the lost” whom need to be found or “the lost” who need to find their way back home (which also means that we consider ourselves as “the found,” usually as being better than those who are “lost,”); we might consider that the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church (or the Kingdom of God) is incomplete without everyone for whom Christ has died. In other words, we need others to be part of the family of God to make it complete just as much as they need to become part of new life God offers his children.

Our congregations are incomplete when we don’t reflect the neighborhoods where we are located. We are handicapped when we don’t have the wisdom and experiences of those who are different than us. We can’t see the whole picture without the insights God has given them through their unique experiences.

It may be, especially in connection with the earlier parables in this chapter of finders seeking what was lost, that the key to this parable is about the father leaving the party to seek out the son who wasn't there. He is also a son that the father had lost, but never realized it.  He had disappeared. He wasn’t invited to the party – probably not intentionally – but just overlooked. It is much like the shepherd coming to realize a sheep is missing or the widow realizing that a coin was missing. The father realized that a son was missing from the party. The party is not complete without both sons being present. The father goes out to seek the lost son.

The slave’s response in v. 27 reminds the older son of the relationships: “Your brother” and “your father.” The older son will not use these terms. He seems to indicate his relationship with his father as that of an obedient slave (v. 29). When talking to his father, he refers to “this son of yours” (v. 30). However, the father reminds him of these relationships: in v. 31: He calls him “child” and in v. 32, says: “this brother of yours.”

The father is seeking to reestablish the proper relationship between himself and his older son; and as Culpepper writes: “In the world of the parable, one cannot be a son without also being a brother.” [p. 304]

Great stuff, Brian!  The go-to reflections back in the day were Helmut Thielecke's "The Waiting Father," which went through various parables including the Prodigal Son.  The father, of course, is waiting only in one sense throughout the prodigal's journey.  But at the end, the father runs to meet the younger son.  Waiting Expectantly, maybe better.

Dave Benke

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Parable of the Prodigal Son
« Reply #13 on: March 26, 2022, 05:26:35 PM »
Great stuff, Brian!  The go-to reflections back in the day were Helmut Thielecke's "The Waiting Father," which went through various parables including the Prodigal Son.  The father, of course, is waiting only in one sense throughout the prodigal's journey.  But at the end, the father runs to meet the younger son.  Waiting Expectantly, maybe better.

Dave Benke


He did more than wait. He fattened up the calf so that it would be ready for the party!

I wonder how different our preparation for worship would be if we saw it as preparation for the lost who were coming home. As I commented at the end of my notes with a quote from Richard Jensen

What might it do for our evangelism efforts if people knew that our church is a church that throws a party whenever the lost are found? [Preaching Luke’s Gospel, p. 170]

I am certain that if we did that, there would be many church members and community people participating in the party, and some “older brothers” who would criticize and stay away.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Dan Fienen

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Re: Parable of the Prodigal Son
« Reply #14 on: March 26, 2022, 05:38:34 PM »
Perhaps they regularly kept a fatted calf so that they were ready whenever a celebration was in order? Doesn't say that this was a calf that was being specifically fattened up in case the younger son came home.
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