To find the lost (Part 2)

This post, continued from yesterday, is based on chapter 9 of Jacob and the Prodigal by Kenneth Bailey, gives some helps for a culturally-aware reading of the parable of the prodigal.

  • “He came to himself” (Luke 15:17). This has commonly been taken to mean that he repented. But this clashes with the other two stories. If the prodigal makes his way home on his own, then this story is the exact opposite of the other two.

For the psalmist, God brings him back to God (see this post). The prodigal returns to himself, not to his father. The father is an instrument to get what he wants: something to eat.

But what of his confession in Luke 15:18? The scribes and Pharisees, well-acquainted with the Jewish scriptures, would have recognised this as Exodus 10:16 where Pharaoh is trying to manipulate Moses into lifting the plagues. Pharaoh wasn’t repenting. The prodigal was going to work (Luke 15:19) so as to recover the money and then be reconciled to his father. No grace necessary.

  • The running father. The father spots his son before the latter reaches the village (Luke 15:20). He runs to reconcile his estranged son. By running, he deflects the attention of the community away from his son and onto himself.

He kisses his son before hearing the speech. He doesn’t demonstrate costly love in response to his son’s confession. Rather, it is a prelude to his son’s remarks.

Why doesn’t the son finish? His father doesn’t interrupt him. The son changes his mind in genuine repentance, surrendering his plan of self-salvation. He accepts to be found.

He [the prodigal] did not complete what he was planning to say, which was “make out of me one of your paid craftsmen” … because he saw from the running of his father to him and the grace-filled way his father met him and embraced him that there was no longer any place for this request to be made into a craftsman. For if after such acts he had made such a request, it would have appeared that he doubted the genuineness of his father’s offered forgiveness.

–Abdallah Ibn al-Tayyib, Tafsir al-Mishriqi (The Interpretation of the Four Gospels), 2:272-75. Translated from Arabic by Kenneth Bailey and quoted on p. 109 of Jacob & the Prodigal. Ibn al-Tayyib was an eleventh-century Syriac scholar in Baghdad.

Why did he [the prodigal] not say to his father, “Fashion out of me one of your paid craftsmen” when he had planned to say it? The answer is that his father’s love outstripped him and forgiveness was everflowing toward him.

–Diyunisiyus Ja’qub Ibn al-Salibi, Kitab al-Durr al-Farid fi Tafsir al-‘Ahd al-Jadid (The Book of Unique Pearls of Interpretation of the New Testament), 2:157. Translated from Arabic by Kenneth Bailey and quoted on p. 110 of Jacob & the Prodigal.

Posts in this series
1 Introduction & overview
2 Three stories, one parable
3 The parable of the lost sheep
4 The lost coin
5 To find the lost (Part 1)
6 To find the lost (Part 2)
7 To find the lost (Part 3)