14.5.09

The Prodigal Son by Timothy Keller




I've read Keller's account of The Prodigal Son today :it's an easy-read and very interesting. The elder Son is the focus of the book and he is the insufficient Son in comparison to our elder brother Christ. The elder son in the story is as morally culpable as the younger son in that he had tried to earn his father's grace and favour through his obedience and is therefore to be compared to the Pharisees of Jesus' day and our own - those who seek to control God by vehemently adhering to God's laws and doing good works whilst condemning those who are not deemed to be as morally scrupulous.

I am aware that as I research this parable I will come across other interpretations but Keller's interpretation has much to teach when we set this parable in the context of the original listening audience and look to the parables which surround it - the lost coin and the lost sheep. In these two other parables about the lost, it is the owner who goes out desperately in search of the lost and rejoices to bring it home. In the tale of the lost son (or rather The Two Lost Sons as many scholars suggest would be a more appropriate title for the book), no one goes out to search for the younger son to bring him home.

Keller suggests that in part, Jesus tells this tale so that we might contrast one dysfunctional son with one perfect and self-sacrificing Son. The elder son should have been the one who went out and searched for his brother and brought him home, for we are 'our brother's keeper'. He didn't. He resented how costly it was to him - this recovery of the younger. It depleted his inheritance and he couldn't understand why his father lavished on him the cloak, the ring and the sandals.

Jesus in contrast, rescues us and reconciles us with the Father by great cost and self-sacrifice, indeed taking upon himself all our sin so that we might be restored. He searches us out and brings us home even to the point of 'death on a cross' (Philippians 2:5-11).

As Christians we are called to live as neither the younger wayward brother nor the elder 'religious' brother. Religion in its 'I obey and so surely God accepts me' should be instead the gospel - 'I am accepted by God because of what Jesus has done for me and as a consequence, I obey.'

Martin Luther says: (just so you do not misinterpret me)
"We are saved by faith alone [not our works], but not by faith that remains alone."

Moving on to other interpretations of 'The Prodigal Son'- I expect to be taught that the younger brother is the Gentile and the older brother the Jew and much more besides.

My essay title is 'Why did Jesus teach in parables? Discuss this question with close reference to one parable in the Synoptic gospels.'

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