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Part #1 - The Prodigal Son

Luke 15: 11–12
And Jesus said, there was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to
his father, "Father give me the share of the property that falls to me." And he
divided his living between them.
Dr. Ken Bailey who lived and taught in the Middle East for over 40 years has never
found an example of a son requesting and receiving inheritance prior to his father's
death. For to do so, would be to wish his father dead.
Middle Eastern parables are intentionally packed with emotion. So to leave out the
intended emotion content is to miss the rich Middle Eastern context. Further Middle
Easterners would expect the father to explode with anger at the son's request.
Yes, unexpectedly, the father grants his son's request and divides his living--literally
meaning that he divided his life between them. In this decision, the father had
two main choices:
(1) He could choose to protect himself by rejecting his son and banishing him from
his thoughts, or
(2) He could choose, as he did, the way of suffering.
Part #2 - The Return of the Prodigal Son
Luke 15: 13–19
Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into
a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he
had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in
want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent
him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the
swine ate [a detestable animal to Jews]: and no one gave him anything.
When he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have
bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my
father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I
am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your skilled
According to Dr. Ken Bailey, the son’s reason for going home is to fill his empty
stomach, not to reconcile with his father. We often think that the parable says that
the son "came to his senses" but the original Greek text translates "the son
returned to himself" meaning that he was trying to find a way to save himself.
Had the son been repentant, the text would have pictured the great Hebrew word
"Shub" which means to "return to God."
Further the son crafts a speech that will give him the best chance of filling his
empty stomach, not to repent. Jesus' audience, the Pharisees, knew the scriptures
well and would have known that Pharaoh used a similar speech to placate Moses to

The imagery here is that of the son returning with dirty rags on his back and a contrived speech. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. The grace is too overwhelming. it was considered humiliating for men over age forty to run. in large part. placing a ring on his finger (a signet ring would give him the power to transact business). his contrived speech melts away. and bring the fatted calf and kill it. and is alive. providing shoes for his feet (slaves were bare-footed: sons wore shoes). But while he was yet at a distance. He expects to face his fathers and brother’s rejection and anger. and put a ring on his hand. Further.”) The Kezazah would be performed by breaking a clay pot at the feet of the prodigal as visual symbol that the community rejected him forever.God Runs Luke 15: 20 – 24 And he arose and came to his father. Then the father restores the son—showering him with the best robe. I have sinned against heaven and before you. How we personally define repentance defines. And the son said to him. Part #3 ." And they began to make merry. It is in this condition that the son starts his journey back to the father—wearing dirty rags and rehearsing a contrived speech to persuade his father to feed him. As the father ran. "Bring quickly the best robe. As the father drew closer. he wants to become a craftsman so that he can re-pay his own way. “Father. Any Jew who lost his money among foreigners would face the Kezazah (literally “the cutting off. he was lost. He wished his father dead. the father kissed him over and over on the neck. and is found. he would have had to lift his robe—another humiliation. and shoes on his feet. In the Middle East. As the son comes closer to his home. he would likely experience fear and shame. The related parable of The Lost Sheep provides a beatiful image of this saving grace. costly love for him. for this my son was dead. the community would reject and banish him—as was the custom. Experiencing the father’s visible. Yet it was the father’s costly. how we interact with . his father saw him and had compassion and ran and embraced him and kissed him. the son is not asking to become a slave.stop the plagues. Moreover. and put it on him. And when the father reached him. unexpected outpouring of visible love that turns the son’s heart toward him—perhaps for the first time. All that is left is feeling that he is is not worthy to be the father’s son. and let us eat and make merry. left family and community. and now he has lost everything. The son’s work (repentance) is simply accepting being found by the father. the son would see not anger—but joy.” But the father said to his servants.

Customarily. And he called one of the young boys and asked what this meant. when the younger son causes strife with his request. and I never disobeyed your command. And he said to him. It was fitting to make merry and be glad. "Lo. "Son you are always with me. His father came out and entreated him. when we realize that God takes the responsibility (with joy) to find and restore us.Analysis of the Older Son Luke 15: 25-32 Now his elder son was in the field. because he has received him with peace. Yet even in this moment. Unexpectedly. Earlier in the day. Now the fatted calf has been killed and it's time for the banquet. there is tremendous pressure to be “good. When we feel responsible for our own repentance (like the Pharisees). "Your brother has come. Part #4 . these many years I have served you. He remains in the courtyard. and is alive. it's the responsibility of the older son to serve the guests. the older son is refusing his responsibility at the celebration as he earlier refused to mediate when the . But when this son of yours came. Yet. unexpected love by running to and embracing the younger son. yet you never gave me a kid that I might make merry with my friends. the older son—as was the Middle Eastern custom—would mediate between the father and the younger son. But he answered his father. And anger lurks beneath the surface but doesn't become apparent until later in the story. We then project this thinking onto others.God and others. we forget the importance of the relationship with God and endlessly oscillate between self-righteousness and guilt. he was lost. who has devoured your living with harlots. Unexpectedly the older son not only does not accept this responsibility but he doesn't fulfill the minimal requirement of greeting the guests." Early in the story. and all that is mine is yours." But he was angry and refused to go in. for this your brother was dead. The guests are made to feel special by the father’s oldest son who serves them. you killed the fatted calf!" And he said to him. we can release much of what controls us.” The problem is that. the older son remains quiet. and as he came and drew near the house. Now the father shows costly love once again by leaving the banquet—a humiliating act in the Middle East—to entreat his older son. and is found. when we focus on being “good”. Now the older son points out how he has served the father as a slave never disobeying his commandments. he heard music and dancing. and your father has killed the fatted calf. the father demonstrated costly.

But even more vexing is what did the sheep do that resembles repentance? What did the coin do that resembles repentance? In the prodigal son. This statement comes from world famous scholar Dr. First. a special word for son that indicates love and affection. When the older son calls on one of the boys after returning from the fields. much like our own. “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents…” Unexpectedly repentance is the theme. Next. Yet. To this defense of joy.Anger blinds him. the lost coin. It is the word Mary uses when Jesus is found in the temple and she says. and it’s a better feeling than you’d have winning the lottery. but asking the older son to see the situation from the father’s perspective..” in an adversarial position. Yuck! …Hold on. it’s not surprising this same theme continues.younger son was leaving for the far country.. At the end of both the lost sheep and the lost coin. as one parable Jesus tells the lost sheep. Furthermore. See resources. when the father addresses the older son. why have you treated us so?" (Luke 2:48) The father goes on. there is no response by the older son—the end of the story is missing. the sinner could return to God: (1) Confess the sin. like many of Jesus’ parables. and the lost sons. If the sinner would follow these three steps. So what did the sons do that resemble repentance? . Remember. In The Cross & the Prodigal. know that Jesus redefines repentance. "Son. (If you want to find out more about Hebrew step parallelism. he does so with the Greek word Teknon. the Greek preposition suggests that they were “facing one another. the text says. the last section is missing on purpose. How would the Pharisees complete this story? The father wishes that the two brothers would embrace and enter into the celebration with joy. uses inverted step parallelism but. the father (as the preposition suggests) asks the older son to "stand parallel to him”—not in an adversarial position. in two sentences this is what repentance looked like prior to its redefinition? In Jesus’ day. (2) Repay. gently to remind his son that the prodigal is “your brother." And the rest of the speech is a defense of joy.) The last missing section is to be written by the Pharisees. Meaning in the Prodigal Son Parable Repentance is the theme in the prodigal son. see Ken Bailey’s Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15. Grasp its meaning. an insightful contrast is drawn between how the older son and the father approach each situation. Now. This parable. Ken Bailey who lived and taught in the Middle East for over 40 years. in this case. here’s how we know that repentance is indeed the theme. repentance meant turning from sin then returning to God. and (3) Committing to not sinning again. And you’ll feel as safe as a baby in the most loving mother’s arms.

this lady is crushed by the judgment of those around her as well as by . Repentance is defined as acceptance of being found. costly love. costly love to the lady as well. on the contrary. For these. not our hard work in which we can take pride. neither the sheep nor the coin plays any active role in their own restoration. our repentance is one more act of the grace of God. his repentance comes in the village.Jesus Demonstration When Jesus told the prodigal son parable he was on his way to Jerusalem where he will be crucified. This act of kindness not only has the potential to save the lady but also the Pharisees themselves. And in the lost sons. but something God does for us which we gratefully receive. Jesus demonstrates unexpected. Repentance is therefore redefined as “accepting being found. So how does Jesus love the “good” and the “bad?” If he sides with the lady. A lady caught in the act of adultery is taken to Jesus to test him. It’s the saving action of the lady who finds the coin. and he accepts being found. Where Jesus’ costly demonstration of unexpected love.Clearly.” a response to the saving actions of the father. In the later (and better-known) Parable of the Two Lost Sons (usually miscalled the Parable of the Prodigal Son). his long suffering. In other words. the prodigal's repentance doesn't come in the far country—that's just a scheme to work his way back into favor. his message of grace will be invalidated. Repentance becomes a combination of the shepherd's act of rescue and the sheep's acceptance of that act. Jesus loves the Pharisees by not saying that they are wrong but by asking them to examine themselves before condemning the lady. If. The sheep is lost and helpless and yet it is a symbol of repentance. it may be helpful to reflect on the prodigal son parable. when his heart breaks at his father's sacrifice for him. he will invalidate Moses and the law. Further they have the law on their side—given to Moses by God—which commands that adulterers’ must be stoned to death. Jesus wants to awaken in these powerful men a sense of guilt so that they can be receptive to grace.11). Some see Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as a necessary act to placate God’s anger. he sides with the Pharisees. It’s the saving action of the shepherd who finds and restores the sheep. it’s the father’s costly demonstration of unexpected love that restores the relationship. he accepts being welcomed back into the family without his having earned it. Now Jesus is in Jerusalem. The Pharisees look to discredit Jesus and stone the lady. (John 8: 1 . Examples . Unlike the powerful Pharisees. not only creates a relationship bridge for us—but he crosses that bridge and joyfully carries us home. where he demonstrates unexpected.

Without this costly demonstration of unexpected love. The law is clear. She condemns herself. abiding in Jesus is what frees us. How will the ending be written for each Pharisees? For the lady? For you? Even an all powerful God can't force someone to love. We think that our "goodness" will free us. She is silent because she is guilty. Incredibly though. . the ending is deliberately missing. is demonstrate with the most costly love how he loves us. As with number of Jesus' parables. We are blinded by our focus on measuring our “goodness” and “badness” within ourselves.herself. He restores her and sets her on a new path. we would not see this love. What God did. Rather. Jesus visibly shifts the anger of the crowd from the lady to himself. however. Jesus did not need to awaken guilt in her.