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The Parable Of The Prodigal Son


ebs001
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In a our discussion group we are discussing a book "We make the road by walking" by Brian D McLaren. The last chapter of which has a commentary on the parable of the prodigal son. It is a story I never could quite get my head around and everything I read, still make no sense. The usual explanation is that the father is God, the elder son is/are the Pharisees and the younger son is a wayward soul. The younger son looses his way and then repents comes back to his father who welcomes him back to the family and throws him a party because he has admitted his sins. He gets salvation as we will because Jesus died for our sins. The elder brother stays with the father and has done nothing wrong in fact has lived a good and decent life, honouring his father throughout but he has a bad and selfish heart because he didn't welcome home his brother so he doesn't get his own party.

 

Jesus is talking to the Pharisees putting down their way of thinking. I doubt that they would identify with the older son. I think they would far more easily identify with the father who rushes out to greet the younger son, gives him the trappings of being once again in the family and then throws a party using the same sacrificed animal that is used at Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. The father then goes to the elder son and says don't be angry everything that is mine is yours. At this point the father has put on a new hat, the Jesus hat. Now, he's saying it's not quite that easy. The true reward, the kingdom of God , comes to those who are good and faithful children.

 

Any thoughts?

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Hi EBS,

 

I think the simple message was to be happy for others that have erred or made unwise choices and then repented and celebrate with them. The older son may not have erred in his actions and he reaped his rewards but his heart was still not yet founded in wisdom and understanding which brought him jealousy and grief. May we all be happy and celebrate with those who have erred in choice and suffered the consequences and be able to celebrate their present good fortune.

 

Joseph

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I've been the prodigal before. I've been welcomed back into a home. So this story is powerful to me. I think that one of the messages can be that Jesus came for the sinners. The righteous will get their reward, but it's the prodigals in the world that Jesus focuses on the most. He would leave the 99 to find the lost sheep. It's a warning to the righteous to be compassion to those who are struggling rather than think themselves better.

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Another interpretation that may be worthy of consideration, ebs001, is that Jesus is expanding his ministry and message to include the Gentiles, which would have pretty much been a no-no. The Jews, at least those concerned with eschatology, were looking for a conquering Jewish king-messiah. Remember John the Baptist saying that the messiah will burn up the chaff? And I suspect Jesus believes this at first also, saying that he was sent only to the house of Israel. The problem is, according to the text, he started coming into contact with Gentiles, who would certainly have been "sinners", and many of them have more faith than "Israel." Within this interpretation, the older brother would be Israel to whom the covenants and promises and "God's house" (the kingdom) was given. The younger brother might well be Gentiles who, though coming from Adam, were still "God's children." God welcomes them into the kingdom also. The kingdom, seen in this light, is no longer a "Jews only club." Jesus echoes this in Matthew 25 i.e. Gentiles are welcomed into the kingdom.

 

Obviously, this parable can be interpreted in a number of ways. But any way we do it, the question still remains of whether those who think they know God best are compassionate to their fellow brothers and sisters.

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BillM, each time Jesus talks to the Pharisees he is attempting to critical of them and rabbinical Judaism. I can certainly see that Jesus would believe that His message was for everyone including gentiles but where most interpretations for me break down is dealing with the elder son in the final two verses.

 

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

 

Nothing has changed. We had to do it. The implication being that the younger son is not with him and still gets nothing. We didn't want to throw a party but we were obligated to.

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I also agree with Bill that there is a number of ways that this parable can be interpreted. That is an amazing thing about stories and parables in particular. Sometimes we get just exactly what we need at the time and later we may gain further insight from the same story. I think there was definitely a certain amount of resentment in the older brothers heart. It seems to me, the ego's unconscious feeling of "not enough" causes it to react in a negative way to someone else's good fortune or success as if something is taken away from self. or "me". When we welcome the success or good fortune of others i believe we attract good fortune or success to our self while at the same time weakening the pull of the ego.

 

Just sayin.... :)

Joseph

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I also agree with Bill that there is a number of ways that this parable can be interpreted. That is an amazing thing about stories and parables in particular. Sometimes we get just exactly what we need at the time and later we may gain further insight from the same story. I think there was definitely a certain amount of resentment in the older brothers heart. It seems to me, the ego's unconscious feeling of "not enough" causes it to react in a negative way to someone else's good fortune or success as if something is taken away from self. or "me". When we welcome the success or good fortune of others i believe we attract good fortune or success to our self while at the same time weakening the pull of the ego.

 

Just sayin.... :)

Joseph

I, too, agree that there are a number of ways that this parable can be interpreted and that has been my experience. I,like many, like definitive answers but this one I will just have to accept that there will be none.

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The parable of the prodigal son is one of a series of parables Jesus wrote to teach others about forgiveness.

 

The main point of divergence between Jesus' theology and the theology of other religious groups in first century Palestine was Jesus' understanding of the mystical power of forgiveness. Jesus' understanding of forgiveness is the key that unlocks the meaning of the Kingdom teachings, including the parables.

 

Jesus' teachings on matters other than forgiveness don't sound a whole lot different than the teachings of other groups. Jesus, like the Pharisees -- and, indeed, like most religious groups of the time -- believed in the importance of ethics, moral choices, and obedience to a code of moral conduct because, well, it's the right thing to do. So Jesus certainly didn't invent the idea of moral codes. But he did build on the radical teachings of the Jewish author we call Job to present a minority understanding of how to be in relationship with God. The minority understanding of Jesus (and Job before him) presented a model for relationship with God that was built on forgiveness (not mercy, not atonement, and not contract law); on agape/love (not obedience, not fear, and not contract law); on a "thinking" faith (not blind faith, not prophecy, and not revelation); on humbleness (not religious humility, not religious salvation, and not on status addiction);on radical inclusiveness (not clan chosenness, not honour-shame cultural norms, and not sectarian segregation); on courage (not fate, not predestination, and not abdication); and finally on the totally crazy idea that God is not a lone male figure (YHWH) but two distinct and separate figures, one male and one female (YHWH and his Asherah?), who together are the One God and make all decisions together based on mutual forgiveness, agape, thinking faith, humbleness, radical inclusiveness, and courage. As above, so below.

 

The parable of the prodigal son reflects Jesus' theology, Jesus' understanding of how we can be in full relationship with God during our lives as human beings.

 

Jesus' parables always ran counter to the Wisdom literature of his time -- what Michael Coogan once called "anti-Wisdom Wisdom" in his commentary on Job. It was Wisdom literature (currents of which ran through most major world religions of the time) which taught that obedience to divinely revealed laws and cultural norms would guarantee "happiness" and eventual acceptance into the heavens (in whatever form "the heavens" were envisioned in a particular religion). Those who willfully disobeyed God's laws (again, in whatever form they were envisioned) would surely be punished -- and rightly so. Wisdom literature (which was already ancient by the time Jesus lived) insisted that Materialist laws of cause-and-effect governed all Creation (including God's own choices) so stability, order, safety, and happiness could be built into a society by observing Creation's laws in scientific ways and then applying reason, justice, and piety to the whole affair.

 

Of course, the world doesn't really work this way, and Jesus knew it. He saw a completely different paradigm in operation in the world around him, a paradigm that blended both Materialist and non-Materialist laws of science in complex and intertwined ways. His parables reflect the anti-Wisdom Wisdom paradigm he observed. He didn't invent what he saw. He simply allowed himself to see what was already there. He allowed himself to hear what God was already saying. And then he tried to share with others the process of emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical change that would allow them to willingly and voluntarily enter "the kingdom of the heavens" as Jesus himself had done -- as any of us can do, according to Jesus (though it's a lot of hard work!).

 

The Kingdom parables are confusing, messy, non-linear, multi-layered, and filled with anti-Wisdom Wisdom because life is confusing, messy, non-linear, multi-layered, and filled with all sorts of irrational (but totally wonderful) emotions like love and gratitude and devotion and forgiveness and the courage to change.

 

Paul didn't agree with any of this, but that's another story.

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  • 3 weeks later...

The parable of the prodigal son is one of a series of parables Jesus wrote to teach others about forgiveness.

 

The main point of divergence between Jesus' theology and the theology of other religious groups in first century Palestine was Jesus' understanding of the mystical power of forgiveness. Jesus' understanding of forgiveness is the key that unlocks the meaning of the Kingdom teachings, including the parables.

 

Jesus' teachings on matters other than forgiveness don't sound a whole lot different than the teachings of other groups. Jesus, like the Pharisees -- and, indeed, like most religious groups of the time -- believed in the importance of ethics, moral choices, and obedience to a code of moral conduct because, well, it's the right thing to do. So Jesus certainly didn't invent the idea of moral codes. But he did build on the radical teachings of the Jewish author we call Job to present a minority understanding of how to be in relationship with God. The minority understanding of Jesus (and Job before him) presented a model for relationship with God that was built on forgiveness (not mercy, not atonement, and not contract law); on agape/love (not obedience, not fear, and not contract law); on a "thinking" faith (not blind faith, not prophecy, and not revelation); on humbleness (not religious humility, not religious salvation, and not on status addiction);on radical inclusiveness (not clan chosenness, not honour-shame cultural norms, and not sectarian segregation); on courage (not fate, not predestination, and not abdication); and finally on the totally crazy idea that God is not a lone male figure (YHWH) but two distinct and separate figures, one male and one female (YHWH and his Asherah?), who together are the One God and make all decisions together based on mutual forgiveness, agape, thinking faith, humbleness, radical inclusiveness, and courage. As above, so below.

 

The parable of the prodigal son reflects Jesus' theology, Jesus' understanding of how we can be in full relationship with God during our lives as human beings.

 

Jesus' parables always ran counter to the Wisdom literature of his time -- what Michael Coogan once called "anti-Wisdom Wisdom" in his commentary on Job. It was Wisdom literature (currents of which ran through most major world religions of the time) which taught that obedience to divinely revealed laws and cultural norms would guarantee "happiness" and eventual acceptance into the heavens (in whatever form "the heavens" were envisioned in a particular religion). Those who willfully disobeyed God's laws (again, in whatever form they were envisioned) would surely be punished -- and rightly so. Wisdom literature (which was already ancient by the time Jesus lived) insisted that Materialist laws of cause-and-effect governed all Creation (including God's own choices) so stability, order, safety, and happiness could be built into a society by observing Creation's laws in scientific ways and then applying reason, justice, and piety to the whole affair.

 

Of course, the world doesn't really work this way, and Jesus knew it. He saw a completely different paradigm in operation in the world around him, a paradigm that blended both Materialist and non-Materialist laws of science in complex and intertwined ways. His parables reflect the anti-Wisdom Wisdom paradigm he observed. He didn't invent what he saw. He simply allowed himself to see what was already there. He allowed himself to hear what God was already saying. And then he tried to share with others the process of emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical change that would allow them to willingly and voluntarily enter "the kingdom of the heavens" as Jesus himself had done -- as any of us can do, according to Jesus (though it's a lot of hard work!).

 

The Kingdom parables are confusing, messy, non-linear, multi-layered, and filled with anti-Wisdom Wisdom because life is confusing, messy, non-linear, multi-layered, and filled with all sorts of irrational (but totally wonderful) emotions like love and gratitude and devotion and forgiveness and the courage to change.

 

Paul didn't agree with any of this, but that's another story.

This is a superb post, Realspiritik. But you know, of course, what I have to zone in on. Talk a little more about Asherah. I thought she was considered a foreign god, connected not to YHWH but to Anu.

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Reading through this thread made me think of a small anecdote found in the book "River of Fire, River of Water" by Taitetsu Unno. It is told by Koshin Ogui, of when he returned home to see his mother.

 

........ I recalled meeting with my mother on my recent trip to Japan. I hadn't seen her for five years. As soon as I opened the door to the house where I was born, there she was standing right in front of me. She didn't say anything much, but she held my hand and with tears in her eyes, she said, "You came home." Isn't that nice, to be welcomed without any justification, whether I believe in her or not. I realize that I have always been living in her love. I am grateful.

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