working together for the future of faith
(1) Luke 15:11-32
(1) Luke 15:11-32
/15:11/ Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. /15:12/ The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. /15:13/ A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. /15:14/ When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. /15:15/ So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. /15:16/ He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. /15:17/ But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! /15:18/ I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; /15:19/ I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."' /15:20/ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. /15:21/ Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' /15:22/ But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. /15:23/ And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; /15:24/ for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate. /15:25/ "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. /15:26/ He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. /15:27/ He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' /15:28/ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. /15:29/ But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. /15:30/ But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' /15:31/ Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. /15:32/ But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"
John Dominic Crossan
Stratum: III (80-120 CE)
Common Sayings Tradition: No
A young man left his father and ran away. For long he dwelt in other countries, for ten, or twenty, or fifty years. The older he grew, the more needy he became. Wandering in all directions to seek clothing and food, he unexpectedly approached his native country. The father had searched for his son all those years in vain and meanwhile had settled in a certain city. His home became very rich; his goods and treasures were fabulous.
At this time, the poor son, wandering through village after village and passing through countries and cities, at last reached the city where his father had settled. The father had always been thinking of his son, yet, although he had been parted from him over fifty years, he had never spoken of the matter to anyone. He only pondered over it within himself and cherished regret in his heart, saying, "Old and worn out I am. Although I own much wealth - gold, silver, and jewels, granaries and treasuries overflowing - I have no son. Some day my end will come and my wealth will be scattered and lost, for I have no heir. If I could only get back my son and commit my wealth to him, how contented and happy would I be, with no further anxiety!"
Meanwhile the poor son, hired for wages here and there, unexpectedly arrived at his father's house. Standing by the gate, he saw from a distance his father seated on a lion-couch, his feet on a jeweled footstool, and with expensive strings of pearls adorning his body, revered and surrounded by priests, warriors, and citizens, attendants and young slaves waiting upon him right and left. The poor son, seeing his father having such great power, was seized with fear, regretting that he had come to this place. He reflected, "This must be a king, or someone of royal rank, it is impossible for me to be hired here. I had better go to some poor village in search of a job, where food and clothing are easier to get. If I stay here long, I may suffer oppression." Reflecting thus, he rushed away.
Meanwhile the rich elder on his lion-seat had recognized his son at first glance, and with great joy in his heart reflected, "Now I have someone to whom I may pass on my wealth. I have always been thinking of my son, with no means of seeing him, but suddenly he himself has come and my longing is satisfied. Though worn with years, I yearn for him."
Instantly he sent off his attendants to pursue the son quickly and fetch him back. Immediately the messengers hasten forth to seize him. The poor son, surprised and scared, loudly cried his complaint, "I have committed no offense against you, why should I be arrested?" The messengers all the more hastened to lay hold of him and brought him back. Following that, the poor son, thought that although he was innocent he would be imprisoned, and that now he would surely die. He became all the more terrified, fainted away and fell on the ground. The father, seeing this from a distance, sent word to the messengers, "I have no need for this man. Do not bring him by force. Sprinkle cold water on his face to restore him to consciousness and do not speak to him any further." Why? The father, knowing that his son's disposition was inferior, knowing that his own lordly position had caused distress to his son, yet convinced that he was his son, tactfully did not say to others, "This is my son."
A messenger said to the son, "I set you free, go wherever you will." The poor son was delighted, thus obtaining the unexpected release. He arose from the ground and went to a poor village in search of food and clothing. Then the elder, desiring to attract his son, set up a device. Secretly he sent two men, sorrowful and poor in appearance, saying, "Go and visit that place and gently say to the poor man, 'There is a place for you to work here. We will hire you for scavenging, and we both also will work along with you.'" Then the two messengers went in search of the poor son and, having found him, presented him the above proposal. The poor son, having received his wages in advance, joined them in removing a refuse heap.
His father, beholding the son, was struck with compassion for him. One day he saw at a distance, through the window, his son's figure, haggard and drawn, lean and sorrowful, filthy with dirt and dust. He took off his strings of jewels, his soft attire, and put on a coarse, torn and dirty garment, smeared his body with dust, took a basket in his right hand, and with an appearance fear-inspiring said to the laborers, "Get on with your work, don't be lazy." By such means he got near to his son, to whom he afterwards said, "Ay, my man, you stay and work here, do not leave again. I will increase your wages, give whatever you need, bowls, rice, wheat-flour, salt, vinegar, and so on. Have no hesitation; besides there is an old servant whom you can get if you need him. Be at ease in your mind; I am, as it were, your father; do not be worried again. Why? I am old and advanced in years, but you are young and vigorous; all the time you have been working, you have never been deceitful, lazy, angry or grumbling. I have never seen you, like the other laborers, with such vices as these. From this time forth you will be as my own begotten son."
The elder gave him a new name and called him a son. But the poor son, although he rejoiced at this happening, still thought of himself as a humble hireling. For this reason, for twenty years he continued to be employed in scavenging. After this period, there grew mutual confidence between the father and the son. He went in and out and at his ease, though his abode was still in a small hut.
Then the father became ill and, knowing that he would die soon, said to the poor son, "Now I possess an abundance of gold, silver, and precious things, and my granaries and treasuries are full to overflowing. I want you to understand in detail the quantities of these things, and the amounts that should be received and given. This is my wish, and you must agree to it. Why? Because now we are of the same mind. Be increasingly careful so that there be no waste." The poor son accepted his instruction and commands, and became acquainted with all the goods. However, he still had no idea of expecting to inherit anything, his abode was still the original place and he was still unable to abandon his sense of inferiority.
After a short time had again passed, the father noticed that his son's ideas had gradually been enlarged, his aspirations developed, and that he despised his previous state of mind. Seeing that his own end was approaching, he commanded his son to come, and gathered all his relatives, the kings, priests, warriors, and citizens. When they were all assembled, he addressed them saying, "Now, gentlemen, this is my son, begotten by me. It is over fifty years since, from a certain city, he left me and ran away to endure loneliness and misery. His former name was so-and-so and my name was so-and-so. At that time in that city I sought him sorrowfully. Suddenly I met him in this place and regained him. This is really my son and I am really his father. Now all the wealth which I possess belongs entirely to my son, and all my previous disbursements and receipts are known by this son." When the poor son heard these words of his father, great was his joy at such unexpected news, and thus he thought, "Without any mind for, or effort on my part, these treasures now come to me."
World-honored One! The very rich elder is the Tathagata, and we are all as the Buddha's sons. The Buddha has always declared that we are his sons. But because of the three sufferings, in the midst of births-and-deaths we have borne all kinds of torments, being deluded and ignorant and enjoying our attachment to things of no value. Today the World-honored One has caused us to ponder over and remove the dirt of all diverting discussions of inferior things. In these we have hitherto been diligent to make progress and have got, as it were, a day's pay for our effort to reach nirvana. Obtaining this, we greatly rejoiced and were contented, saying to ourselves, "For our diligence and progress in the Buddha-law what we have received is ample". The Buddha, knowing that our minds delighted in inferior things, by his tactfulness taught according to our capacity, but still we did not perceive that we are really Buddha's sons. Therefore we say that though we had no mind to hope or expect it, yet now the Great Treasure of the King of the Law has of itself come to us, and such things that Buddha-sons should obtain, we have all obtained. (Saddharmapundarika Sutra 4)
In his Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament, Samuel Lachs offers this tantalyzing possibilty about a Jewish version of this parable:
The Parable of the Prodigal Son, or the Two Sons, most likely goes back to Jewish sources, but no exact parallel survives. Some parallel phrases have been traced to Ahikar and some of the ideas to Philo. More cogent proof is the fact that in na Genizah fragment the Gason R. Aha quotes Sanh. 99a, not extant in toto in our tests, in which R. Abbahu cites a parable of "a king who two sons, one who went in the proper way, the other who went out to 'evil culture." Abrahams comments. "This looks like a reminiscence of Luke's Parable, and it may have been removed from the Talmud text by scribes more cognizant than Abbahu was of the source of the story." Ginzberg comments, "The source for the Parable ... is not known to me. Obviously R. Aha must have had it in his text of the Talmud ... In any event, it is the short, original form of the New Testament parable of the prodigal son."
Lachs also cites the following saying attested from Palestinian Rabbis:
When a son [abroad] goes barefoot [through poverty]
he remembers the comfort of his father's house.
[Lam. R. I.7]
We can see that the underlying social and domestic issue was clearly known to Jews in the Hellenistic period, as Sirach offers this advice to those who find themselves in the situation of the father in this parable:
20To 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,
in case you change your mind and must ask for it.
21While you are still alive and have breath in you,
do not let anyone take your place.
22For it is better that your children should ask from you
than that you should look to the hand of your children.
23Excel in all that you do;
bring no stain upon your honor.
24At the time when you end the days of your life,
in the hour of death, distribute your inheritance.
The following rabbinic passage which provides at least a partial parallel to this story:
Rabbi Meir was famous for his parables (‘When R. Meir died there were no more makers of parables’ [Sota 9.15]), and this one is to be compared with the Prodigal Son. It is quite probably older than R. Meir himself (second century AD), having been attributed to him because of his reputation for parables:
A King’s son went out into evil courses, and the King sent his guardian (paidagogos) after him. ‘Return, my son,’ said he. But the son sent him back, saying to his father: ‘How can I return, I am ashamed.’ His father sent again saying: ‘My son, art thou indeed ashamed to return? Is it not to thy father that thou returnest?’
(Deut. R. 2.24 quoted from I. Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels: First Series [Cambridge: University Press, 1917], p. 142.)
Here we have the characteristic Jewish hope: the Lord God of Heaven and Earth is their father; he will accept his penitent son.
This extract is from Norman Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus (ch 2: The Kingdom of God), and is avalable at Religion-Online as part of their extensive collection of online texts.
The following extract from Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus (1998:104-107) may also be of interest:
Though the parable of the lost son is much more detailed, the climax of its first half is the same as the two parables above [the lost sheep, and the lost coin]. The son was genuinely prodigal: emigrating to a "far country," a Gentile land, he wasted his assets in loose living, ignoring the moral claim which his father still had on his property. When he had exhausted his resources, instead of seeking charity at a Diaspora synagogue, he worked for a Gentile, rendering impossible the observance of such Jewish ordinances as the sabbath. Not only did he become a despised herdsman, but a swineherd. He lived in gross impurity and had become, according to the standards of the quest for holiness, a non-Jew, and his father's statement, "This my son was dead," was correct in an important sense: his son had ceased to be a Jew. Nevetheless, when the son returned, what did the father do? Like the shepherd and the woman, he celebrated his return and, significantly, arranged for a festive banquet.
As reponses to the protests of his opponents, these parables were both a defense of Jesus' behavior and an invitation to his opponents to join in the celebration. Jesus defended his table fellowship as festive celebrations of the return of the outcasts (who were also children of Abraham). The defense, however, was also an invitation to his opponents, as suggested by the parabolic form.
Unlike a straightforward defense or indictment, the parables of Jesus frequently functioned to lead people to see things differently by inviting them to make a judgment about an everyday situation and then to transfer that judgment to the situation at hand. The parables sought to bridge the gap between speaker and hearer, frequently accomplishing this by being cast in the form of a question, explicitly or implicitly: what will a shepherd do when he finds a lost sheep? Will he not celebrate? By appealing to the normal reactions of ordinary human beings when they recover something of value (whether a sheep, a coin, or a child), Jesus implicitly asks his hearers, "Do you not see that it makes sense to celebrate?"
The invtation became explicit in the second half of the parable.
Just as the lost son in the first half of the parable has a historical equivalent (the outcasts who had become as non-Jews), so the elder son in the second half has his equivalent: he represents the protesters. Like them, he has been dutiful, consistently obeying his father's commands; like them, he was outraged by the acceptance of the wastrel.
The words spoken to the elder son were implicitly directed to Jesus' opponents. They repeat, gently and imploringly, the justification for the festive celebration: "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found." As the climax to a spoken parable in a setting of actual controversy over table fellowship, the final words hang in the air trailing an unexpressed question. Will the elder son join the festivity? Or will he let his own standard of proper behavior prevent him from joining the celebration? Will the protesters' commitment to the quest for holiness make them adamant that outcasts such as these cannot be part of the people of God? For them to have accepted the invitation would have required a seismic change in their understanding of what the people of God were intended to be, a radical reorientation of both their perception and their animating vision, one that would fundamentally transform their social world.
Clement of Alexandria, Commentary on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. [Translated by Rev. William Wilson]
This fragment of a longer work by Clement has survived because it is quoted in an oration on Luke 15 by Macarius Chrysocephalus. The second part, however, starting at section 4, is in a different style and refers directly to the Novatian schism which took place after St. Clement's repose. The second unknown author is however very close to Clement in his general approach to exegesis.
1. What choral dance and high festival is held in heaven, if there is one that has become an exile and a fugitive from the life led under the Father, knowing not that those who put themselves far from Him shall perish; if he has squandered the gift, and substance, and inheritance of the Father; if there is one whose faith has failed, and whose hope is spent, by rushing along with the Gentiles into the same profligacy of debauchery; and then, famished and destitute, and not even filled with what the swine eat, has arisen and come to his Father!
But the kind Father waits not till the son comes to Him. For perchance he would never be able or venture to approach, did he not find Him gracious. Wherefore, when he merely wishing, when he straightway made a beginning, when he took the first step, while he was yet a great way off, He [the Father] was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell upon his neck and kissed him. And then the son, taking courage, confessed what he had done.
Wherefore the Father bestows on him the glory and honour that was due and meet, putting on him the best robe, the robe of immortality; and a ring, a royal signet and divine seal, -- impress of consecration, signature of glory, pledge of testimony (for it is said, "He hath set to his seal that God is true," [Jn. 3:33]) and shoes, not those perishable ones which he hath set his foot on holy ground is bidden take off [Ex. 3:5], nor such as he who is sent to preach the kingdom of heaven is forbidden to put on [Mt. 10:10], but such as wear not, and are suited for the journey to heaven, becoming and adorning the heavenly path, such as unwashed feet never put on, but those which are washed by our Teacher and Lord [Jn. 13:8].
Many, truly, are the shoes of the sinful soul, by which it is bound and cramped. For each man is cramped by the cords of his own sins. Accordingly, Abraham swears to the king of Sodom, "I will not take of all that is thine, from a thread to a shoe-latchet," [Gn. 14:23]. On account of these being defiled and polluted on the earth, every kind of wrong and selfishness engrosses life. As the Lord reproves Israel by Amos, saying, "For three iniquities of Israel, yea, for four, I will not turn him back; because they have given away the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes, which tread upon the dust of the ground," [Am. 2:6].
2. Now the shoes which the Father bids the servant give to the repentant son who has betaken himself to Him, do not impede or drag to the earth (for the earthly tabernacle weighs down the anxious mind); but they are buoyant, and ascending, and waft to heaven, and serve as such a ladder and chariot as he requires who has turned his mind towards the Father. For, beautiful after being first beautifully adorned with all these things without, he enters into the gladness within. For "Bring out" was said by Him who had first said, "While he was yet a great way off, he ran and fell upon his neck." For it is here [reading entautha for enteuthen] that all the preparation for entrance to the marriage to which we are invited must be accomplished. He, then, who has been made ready to enter will say, "This my joy is fulfilled," [Jn. 3:29]. But the unlovely and unsightly man will hear, "Friend, how camest thou in here, without having a wedding garment? " [Mt. 22:12]. And the fat and unctuous food, -- the delicacies abundant and sufficing of the blessed, -- the fatted calf is killed; which is also again spoken of as a lamb (not literally); that no one may suppose it small; but it is the great and greatest. For not small is "the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world," [Jn. 1:29], who "was led as a sheep to the slaughter," the sacrifice full of marrow, all whose fat, according to the sacred law, was the Lord's. For He was wholly devoted and consecrated to the Lord; so well grown, and to such excessive size, as to reach and extend over all, and to fill those who eat Him and feed upon Him. For He is both flesh and bread, and has given Himself as both to us to be eaten.
To the sons, then, who come to Him, the Father gives the calf, and it is slain and eaten. But those who do not come to Him He pursues and disinherits, and is found to be a most powerful bull. Here, by reason of His size and prowess, it is said of Him, "His glory is as that of an unicorn," [Nu. 23:22]. And the prophet Habakkuk sees Him bearing horns, and celebrates His defensive attitude -- "horns in His hands," [Ha. 3:4]. Wherefore the sign shows His power and authority, -- horns that pierce on both sides, or rather, on all sides, and through everything. And those who eat are so strengthened, and retain such strength from the life-giving food in them, that they themselves are stronger than their enemies, and are all but armed with the horns of a bull; as it is said, "In thee shall we butt our enemies," [Ps. 43(44):5].
3. Gladness there is, and music, and dances; although the elder son, who had ever been with and ever obedient to the Father, takes it ill, when he who never had himself been dissipated or profligate sees the guilty one made happy.
Accordingly the Father calls him, saying, "Son, thou art ever with me." And what greater joy and feast and festivity can be than being continually with God, standing by His side and serving Him? "And all that is mine is thine." And blessed is the heir of God, for whom the Father holds possession, -- the faithful, to whom the whole world of possessions belongs.
" It was meet that we should be glad, and rejoice; for thy brother was dead, and is alive again." Kind Father, who givest all things life, and raisest the dead. "And was lost, and is found." And "blessed is the man whom Thou hast chosen and accepted," [Ps. 64(65):5], and whom having sought, Thou dost find. "Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are covered," [Ps. 31(32):1]. It is for man to repent of sins; but let this be accompanied with a change that will not be checked. For he who does not act so shall be put to shame, because he has acted not with his whole heart, but in haste.
And it is ours to flee to God. And let us endeavour after this ceaselessly and energetically. For He says, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," [Mt. 11:28]. And prayer and confession with humility are voluntary acts. Wherefore it is enjoined, "First tell thy sins, that thou mayest be justified," [Is. 43:26]. What afterwards we shall obtain, and what we shall be, it is not for us to judge.
[Here the second writer begins.]
4. Such is the strict meaning of the parable. The repentant son came to the pitying Father, never hoping for these things, -- the best robe, and the ring, and the shoes, -- or to taste the fatted calf, or to share in gladness, or enjoy music and dances; but he would have been contented with obtaining what in his own estimation he deemed himself worth. "Make me," he had made up his mind to say, "as one of thy hired servants." But when he saw the Father's welcome meeting him, he did not say this, but said what he had in his mind to say first, "Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and before thee." And so both his humility and his accusation became the cause of justification and glory. For the righteous man condemns himself in his first words. So also the publican departed justified rather than the Pharisee, [Lk. 18:14]. The son, then, knew not either what he was to obtain, or how to take or use or put on himself the things given him; since he did not take the robe himself, and put it on. But it is said, "Put it on him." He did not himself put the ring on his finger, but those who were bidden "put a ring on his hand." Nor did he put the shoes on himself, but it was they who heard, "and shoes on his feet." And these things were perhaps incredible to him and to others, and unexpected before they took place; but gladly received and praised were the gifts with which he was presented.
5. The parable exhibits this thought, that the exercise of the faculty of reason has been accorded to each man. Wherefore the prodigal is introduced, demanding from his father his portion, that is, of the state of mind, endowed by reason. For the possession of reason is granted to all, in order to the pursuit of what is good, and the avoidance of what is bad. But many who are furnished by God with this make a bad use of the knowledge that has been given them, and land in the profligacy of evil practices, and wickedly waste the substance of reason, -- the eye on disgraceful sights, the tongue on blasphemous words, the smell on foetid licentious excesses of pleasures, the mouth on swinish gluttony, the hands on thefts, the feet on running into plots, the thoughts on impious counsels, the inclinations on indulgence on the love of ease, the mind on brutish pastime. They preserve nothing of the substance of reason unsquandered. Such an one, therefore, Christ represents in the parable, -- as a rational creature, with his reason darkened, and asking from the Divine Being what is suitable to reason; then as obtaining from God, and making a wicked use of what had been given, and especially of the benefits of baptism, which had been vouchsafed to him; whence also He calls him a prodigal; and then, after the dissipation of what had been given him, and again his restoration by repentance, [He represents] the love of God shown to him.
6. For He says, "Bring hither the fatted calf, kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son" -- a name of nearest relationship, and significative of what is given to the faithful -- "was dead and lost," -- an expression of extremest alienation; for what is more alien to the living than the lost and dead? For neither can be possessed any more. But having from the nearest relationship fallen to extremest alienation, again by repentance he returned to near relationship. For it is said, "Put on him the best robe," which was his the moment he obtained baptism. I mean the glory of baptism, the remission of sins, and the communication of the other blessings, which he obtained immediately he had touched the font.
" And put a ring on his hand." Here is the mystery of the Trinity; which is the seal impressed on those who believe. "And put shoes on his feet," for "the preparation of the Gospel of peace," [Eph. 6:15], and the whole course that leads to good actions.
7. But whom Christ finds lost, after sin committed since baptism, those Novatus, enemy of God, resigns to destruction. Do not let us then reckon any fault if we repent; guarding against falling, let us, if we have fallen, retrace our steps. And while dreading to offend, let us, after offending, avoid despair, and be eager to be confirmed; and on sinking, let us haste to rise up again. Let us obey the Lord, who calls to us, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour, and I will give you rest," [Mt. 11:28]. Let us employ the gift of reason for actions of prudence. Let us learn now abstinence from what is wicked, that we may not be forced to learn in the future. Let us employ life as a training school for what is good; and let us be roused to the hatred of sin. Let us bear about a deep love for the Creator; let us cleave to Him with our whole heart; let us not wickedly waste the substance of reason, like the prodigal. Let us obtain the joy laid up, in which Paul exulting, exclaimed, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? " [Rm. 8:35]. To Him belongs glory and honour, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.
This poem originated as a contribution to the HODOS online community by Gene Stecher. It is published with Gene's consent but he explicitly retains full rights as the creative author. You welcome to use it for personal study and worship, but it should not be published in any other form without the author's prior consent. Index to Gene Stecher's poems
A demanding brother,
A division of property.
Choice to squander abroad,
Choice to manage at home.
Prostitutes and famine,
Hired out to feed pigs.
Memories of dad's hired hands.
Expressions of regret for the shame of sin.
Death to life metaphor, celebration!
The return to I-Thou without condition.
The offense of the slaving older brother.
The reminder of the uninterrupted I-Thou.