To find the lost (Part 3)

This post, continued from yesterday, is based on chapter 9 of Jacob and the Prodigal by Kenneth Bailey, explaining some of the cultural background to the parable of the prodigal that may escape us.

  • The father behaves like a mother. An oriental patriarch would be expected to remain at home in stately dignity. Instead, he runs down the road and showers the son with kisses.
  • The father, as a symbol for God, evolves into a symbol for Christ. The father in the parable does exactly what Jesus was accused of doing: receiving sinners and eating with them (Luke 15:2).
  • The meaning of the banquet:
  1. According to the father: (Luke 15:23-24). The father does not say, “He was lost and has come home.” The son was lost and dead, and as a result of the father’s costly demonstration of love, he was now found and resurrected. The banquet is a celebration of the success of that finding and that resurrection.
  2. According to the little boy: (Luke 15:26-27).  This boy isn’t a servant because they’re inside the house making preparations. Additionally, a servant would have referred to the father as ‘my master’ not ‘your father’ (verse 27). The boy offers the community’s understanding of what’s happening:

Your brother has come, and you father has killed the fatted calf, because [now comes the second interpretation of the banquet] he [the father] has received him [the prodigal] with peace! (Luke 15:27, Kenneth Bailey’s translation)

For the community, the banquet is a celebration of the father’s efforts at reconciling his son.

  1. According to the elder son: (Luke 15:30). Is the banquet in honour of the prodigal or in honour of the father? Will the guests congratulate the father or the son? Note that the older son’s view, commonly accepted, conflicts with the other two.
  • The older son’s anger. He is angry not that his brother is safely home, but that he’s been reconciled—without having to pay for his sins! He insults the father by refusing to join in the celebration.
  • The father’s response to the older son. The father, for the second time, offers a costly demonstration of unexpected love. Grace is offered to both the law-breaker and the law-keeper.
  • The sons’ responses. The younger son accepts being found. We don’t know what the older son decides. The previous two parables end in joy; here the joy is missing.

♠The End♠

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)

2 thoughts on “To find the lost (Part 3)

  1. Thanks for the nice summary. I have heard people refer to Bailey’s teaching before but they don’t do it justice. I look forward to reading Jacob & the Prodigal in full!

    From just my own study, I had decided that the three parables (Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son) were really one parable. The center parable giving the main point of it (“More joy in heaven over…”), but the first two setting the FORM of the last… differences in the last will be important. The last ends without ending to focus reader on the issue at hand (some feel they have no need, and therefore have no joy in the search or the finding). But, I too thought there was a problem in the last in that the finder didn’t appear to “find” but rather receive the son’s repentance. This just opens up that parable so that it is all very clear and very focused.

    Great summary articles!

    1. Hello, JJ. Thank you for reading and commenting!
      If you’re interested in the Luke 15 parable(s), may I suggest reading Bailey’s Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15, which deals the material in more depth. The bulk of Jacob & the Prodigal was devoted to the similarities and differences between Jacob’s saga and the story of the prodigal, and my notes here cover only four chapters of the book.

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