Emerging Truths

One man's unorthodox views of selected bible stories

The Prodigal Son

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Recently I was asked for my interpretation of the parable of the prodigal son. Perhaps this person was asking why Jesus chose to tell this parable at that time. Here's the context:

Luke 15:1-2 Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.


Luke 15:11-32 And he said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.


The Interpretation


What is the message of this parable? To answer that, let's revisit the context in which it was given:

Luke 15:1-2 Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.


So there were two crowds of people there—the publicans/sinners and the Pharisees/scribes—and the latter were murmuring against him for taking up with publicans and sinners (instead of the Pharisees). The Pharisees are the older son, the one who never left home and took up with harlots. They had kept a clean house (at least in their own minds), and they were perhaps jealous that Jesus ignored them in favor of ministering unto publicans and sinners.

His point, then was to tell them, in effect, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." The parable was for the Pharisees. And although the parable portrays them as the good older son who had never taken up with harlots, we know how Jesus really felt about them: they had lost their way, they were hypocrites. But rather than call them out like this, he was very subtle, which would of course cause them to secretly ask themselves: are we really as sinless as he portrays us in this parable. Genius.