Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Pursuing Father Part 12

13. The father’s response. For a fourth time, the father goes beyond what a traditional patriarch would do. For the second time in the same day, he is willing to offer a costly demonstration of unexpected love. Only this time it is to a lawkeeper rather than a lawbreaker. Amazing grace holds true for both sons.

Culturally, the father is expected to proceed with the banquet and ignore the public insult. He can deal with the older son later. But no! In painful public humiliation, the father goes down and out to find yet one more lost sheep/coin/son.

14. The older son’s response. The younger son “accepted” to be found. He was overwhelmed by the costly love freely offered to him. The older son, in contrast, seems unimpressed. Instead, he mercilessly attacks both his father and his brother in public. The father is expected finally to explode and order a thrashing for the public insults. For a fifth time, patriarchy is transcended.

This is not a remarkable father. Rather it is a symbol for God. As Henri Nouwen has written regarding this parable, “This is the portrayal of God, whose goodness, love, forgiveness, care, joy and compassion have no limits at all. Jesus presents God’s generosity by using all the imagery that his culture provides, while constantly transforming it” (The Return of the Prodigal). If the older son accepts the love now offered to him, he will be obliged to treat the Prodigal with the same loving acceptance with which the father welcomed the pig herder. The older son will need to be “conformed to the image” of that compassionate father who comes to both kinds of sinners in the form of a suffering servant, offering undeserved, costly love. Is he willing? We are not told. By this point the audience is on the stage and must decide for itself.

[I hope this was as insightful for you as it was for me.]


  1. Donna, I have greatly enjoyed this series on the Prodigal Son. It has greatly enhanced my knowledge and appreciation of the subject. Thanks for posting it.

    And, you finished the series just in time. Our next Gospel Doctrine lesson is on the lost sheep, lost coin, and the prodigal son!

  2. It makes you think--for those of us who tend to be more like the older son, especially--how do I respond?

  3. I remember hearing Rob once say something about how most of the people in the LDS Church associate (often unknowingly) more closely with the older son than the prodigal son in this parable. Reading through this commentary, it now occurs to me that the story of the older son may actually be as important as the illustration of the father's behavior. After all, Christ's audience for this parable was a group of expert law-abiders . . .

  4. Donna, this is Giulia. I just taught this parable on my Gospel doctrine class here in Indiana, where we live now for Daniel's studies (PhD).
    I printed what was posted up to Saturday and my lesson greatly benefited from it.
    I so enjoyed the new perspective and the deeper meaning...truly the protagonist of this trilogy in Luke is our Father in Heaven and His infinite love for us as individuals, even in our weak and lost state.

    Thank you!

  5. I have also been hugely blessed by this series. I recall someone saying this parable is not about the prodigal son but is really about the forgiving Father. I loved the quote from Henri Nouwin, one of my favorite authors. He has also written a book on this parable. Many many thanks for the amazing insights here!!

  6. Wow, what a ride! Spent the last two hours studying these posts (and taking detailed notes). Learned soooo much. Often felt the parable was not interpreted and discussed as accurately as it could be. Makes a difference seeing it in context of the culture of the time.

    Both sons come off looking pretty lame, in my opinion! Makes more sense that Jesus is the father. I have compassion for the elder son, (as one who has lived a tame life). I'd like to think he probably realized that he's a lot farther ahead in life than the Prodigal who can't undo much of the consequences of his very poor choices. Some things can't be fixed--best to not get in stupid predicaments.

    I think of the apostle Paul and Alma the Younger, who started out as pretty bad dudes and ended up some of my spiritual heroes. So who are we to judge?