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Thread (2nd expanded edition) on Jesus’s Parable of the Two Sons (Luke 15:11-32)

This remarkable story of <400 words is both stunningly simple & packed with layers of meaning & deep allusions which outwit the most knowledgeable audiences.
It’s 3rd in a series of 3 stories about what is lost:

1/100 sheep lost

1/10 coins lost

Then 2 sons, both lost, though 1 is found again, & the fate of the other depends on the audience's response.
As @jamesbejon points out in an inspirational thread

The sheep is lost by going away

The coin is lost staying at home

This story tells of two sons, 1 lost by going away & the other lost at home.
We begin with an outcast audience (15:1) 'drawing near' as Older Bro 'drew near' (15:26). Contrast the Younger Bro going to a 'far' country (15:13) & Dad seeing him from ‘far’ off (15:20). The language of physical distance for the sons is the opposite of their spiritual distance.
Language of proximity + distance in the parable parallels + contrasts deeper realities. Sinners are close to Jesus physically + spiritually. The Older Bro is physically close to Dad, but emotionally in a far land. The Younger Bro is far physically, but close to Dad's heart.
Two contrasting groups hear the parable (Luke 15:1-2). Like a #Pixar kids' film with lines only the adults get, some parts of the story are only for real Bible geeks like the Scribes. Jesus challenges them to spot how almost every part of his story comes from the OT.
For the expert Scribes Jesus makes (by my count) 4 uses of language from the Laban-Jacob narrative. These support the bigger dependence of the parable on the narrative of Jacob and Esau - but I get ahead of myself.
Two verbs stand out from Israel's time in the wilderness: God's command 'hear' – (what sinners do in Luke 15:1, like ‘Hear, O Israel’ in Deuteronomy 6:4) vs what the Israel did, namely 'grumble' – what the scribes do (15:2).
This isn't the only parable beginning 'a man had 2 sons/children'. Matt 21:28-32 does same for a different story, though characters there are like the audience in Luke 15. That parable climaxes saying ‘tax collectors & prostitutes believed’ (Matt 21:32). More on prostitutes soon.
In Luke 16:28 the rich man claims he has 5 brothers. That's mathematically impossible while claiming Abraham as his father, cos Abe has loads of offspring, including Lazarus.

So here, Older Bro doesn't want to recognize Younger Bro, as Scribes don't want to recognize Sinners.
In Luke 16 the Rich Man 3x calls Abraham 'father', insincerely. In Luke 15 the Prodigal 3x (including his rehearsed speech) calls his Dad 'father'. Between these 2 sets of 3 is the striking absence of the term ‘father’ in Older Bro's speech in 15:29, which begins simply 'Look...'
One of the biggest mistakes in reading the parable is not to notice that Dad responds to the Prodigal by sharing everything with both sons. The story is not set in a particular country but in Jewish law Older Bro would get double, and he now owns the entire remaining farm.
Prodigal goes to a far country + 'wastes' possessions (15:13). The same verb begins the next parable in 16:1, so we have 2 adjacent parables about wasters, listened to by Pharisees, who love money (16:14), and therefore particularly hate (1) wasters; (2) toll collectors (15:1-2).
Prodigal 'wasted his goodes with royetous livinge' (Tyndale). Why say more? Sin is seemingly interesting, but deeply boring. Jesus doesn't spoil a good story with boring details.
'Coincidentally' when the Prodigal has spent all, a famine hits the particular country he's chosen. Mark Allan Powell tells that the famine was remembered as part of the story by more of his Russian students than of his American ones.…
There are two uses of the word 'began' at the two opposite poles of the Prodigal's experience: 'began to be in need' (15:14) and 'began to celebrate' (15:24).
'He joined himself to one of the citizens of that country' (15:15). Ouch! The word 'citizen' really rubs in his alien status. Put in the plural it's worse. There are many citizens, but he's not one of them.
Prodigal in sent into 'the fields' (15:15) paralleling Older Bro in the 'field' (15:25). Jesus tells the story with a degree of homiletic perfection. Every word counts - surely a good argument for Divine origin of Scripture.
Prodigal feeds pigs - unclean animals + one of many links between this + Parable of Rich Man & Lazarus in following chapter, where dogs licked Lazarus. Pigs & dogs are paralleled in Matt 7:6. Same Guy teaching + thus a sign of authenticity in both gospels.
Prodigal 'longed to be filled' ... followed by mention of unclean animals (15:16).

Ditto Lazarus (16:21).
Did the Prodigal get a job? Hardly. 'He joined himself' (15:15) - i.e. work without pay. He didn't even get the remains of the pigs' food. 'No one gave him anything' - legal experts in the crowd knew the Torah (e.g. Deut 15:10) enjoined giving to the destitute.
Now before you read the next tweet, consider Jesus’s knowledge challenge to the scribes:

Where in Scripture, other than Luke 15:20, does a man run, fall on someone's neck and then kiss them?

Shocking answer.
Jesus portrays Prodigal's Father in terms only elsewhere used of Esau.

He ran, fell on the neck of younger brother returning from herding in distant land, + kissed him (Gen 33:4).

Toll Collectors + Sinners may have missed the allusion. But what about Scribes?
Analogy with #Pixar film helps explain why Jesus's story works for biblical novices + also hits expert Scribes.

Parallels with Jacob & Esau story run deep. Jacob goes with nothing to far land + returns with lots.

Prodigal goes with lots + returns with nothing.
Esau was cheated out of all inheritance by Little Bro. He has reason to be angry but isn't, even though proverbially reprobate.

In Luke, Older Bro has inherited whole farm + is angry at risk of loss when Little Bro comes back prepared to work for his food.
'A certain man had two sons'. Who's the most famous OT character to have 2 and only 2 sons? Of course, Isaac. His younger son cheated the older out of inheritance and blessing. Are the toll collectors and sinners of Luke 15:1 going to get both?
Time passed slowly for the Prodigal's Father, but when his son returned his first word was 'Quick.' Just because past time is lost is not a reason to lose time now. Interestingly, his first words are to the servants, not the Prodigal.
Another challenge for the Scribes: what OT passage do the ring and robe of 15:22 come from?
They’re straight from the Joseph story: “Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen.” (Gen 41:42)
There are actually other echoes of the Joseph story here. After all, who in the OT had a son he thought was dead & come to life again? Jacob, just like the father here (Luke 15:24, 32)
How do verses from the surrounding context affect our reading: 14:26 ('if anyone ... does not hate his father...') + 16:13 ('he will either hate the one + love the other'), esp. when God loved Jacob + hated Esau? Deepest problem seems to be loving money in 16:14.
And the ‘strong famine’ (15:14) of this story echoes the most famous OT famine story of all.

The Joseph story also has embraces though the kissing and falling on the neck, though only as separate events (Gen 45:15; 46:29).
Judah’s ‘I will bear the blame forever’ (Gen 43:9) & ‘I shall bear the blame before my father’ (Gen 44:32) are echoed in the Prodigal’s ‘I have sinned against heaven and before you’ (Luke 15:21).
And then there’s the older brother + the goat + prostitutes (Luke 15:29-30), which rather echoes Judah’s activities with Tamar, dressed as a prostitute, and his attempt to send a goat as payment (Gen 38).
Scribes are reminded it was far-off brother Joseph who was resisting advances of Potiphar’s wife (Gen 39), while Judah was indulging his passions before bursting into anger at the unrighteousness of another, whom he came to admit to be more righteous than himself (Gen 38:24-26).
In this brief story, Jesus has worked in multiple levels of OT echo. Let’s consider some of the depths of the echoes to the Esau-Jacob story.
Jacob to Esau after he ran to embrace him: 'I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God' (Gen 33:10). Esau's forgiveness and acceptance of Jacob is (partly) like the Father's acceptance of the Prodigal.
The Younger Bro really desired food. I seem to remember Esau being desperate for food. Just one of many twists Jesus made relative to the Jacob-Esau story.
Isaac really wanted meat. Got given goat. Here Older Bro complains of not being given even a goat.
The Prodigal's father saw him far away. Jacob's father couldn't see him up close. Isaac says 'please come near'. Toll collectors and sinners come near to Jesus. Older Bro came near to the house.
For good measure Jesus challenges Scribes with at least 4 allusions to the Jacob-Laban narrative. Can you see what they are?
Laban-Jacob allusion 1. 'he has indeed devoured our money' (Gen 31:15) & 'who has devoured your property' (Luke 15:30).
Allusion 2. 'I might have sent you away with mirth, and songs, with tambourine and lyre' (Gen 31:27) & (upon Younger Bro's return) 'he heard music and dancing' (Luke 15:25).
Allusion 3. 'these twenty years I have been with you' (working) (Gen 31:38) & 'these many years I have served you' (Luke 15:29).
Allusion 4. 'all that you see is mine' (Gen 31:43) & 'all that is mine is yours' (Luke 15:31).

So that’s 3 big OT stories: Jacob-Esau, Jacob-Laban, and Jacob-Joseph which Jesus has worked into this parable.
The Prodigal asks to be treated as a servant when he is a son.

The Older Bro thinks he's being treated as a slave when he is a son.

Meanwhile, echoes of Judah should have reminded Bible expert Scribes that Judah asked his younger brother to be treated like a slave (Gen 44:33).
Now let’s look at more connections with surrounding parables. 'Rejoice/celebrate' = key term in stories of 100 sheep, 10 coins + 2 sons. Also, quite differently, is what Rich Man does daily in 16:19. Jesus makes parables like jewels, sparkling from different angles.
'The older brother was in the field' (15:25). Implicitly working. This would surely be the guy to employ! He thinks he's slaving for Dad, but is in fact augmenting his own wealth.
15:26 Older Bro ‘called one of the servants’. The phrase ‘called one’ (Greek: proskalesamenos hena) is an exact match for when the Unjust Manager called a debtor in 16:5.
15:27 Servant’s answer: ‘your brother has come’ is more prosaic than Father’s exclamation that he’s back from dead (15:24), but NB ‘your brother’ occurs here + 15:32. Sandwiched between these 2 is Older Bro’s denial of relationship: ‘this son of yours’ (15:30).
Older Bro complains that he’s never been given a goat so that he could ‘celebrate’ (15:29) — so his celebration contrasts with the one in 15:24.
Servant: ‘Your father has killed the fattened calf’; Older Bro to Dad: ‘You killed the fattened calf FOR HIM’.
Even after starving in a foreign land I doubt Little Bro could eat a whole calf.
Older Bro: ‘You never gave me a young goat’. Since Older Bro now owns everything (15:12) the complaint that Little Bro has a big animal (FAT calf) while Big Bro doesn’t even have a little one (YOUNG goat) is mad.
Why does Older Bro suggest that he’s been denied meat on the farm for years? What is his logic? There is some, albeit wrong.
‘So that I might celebrate with my friends’ = super revealing phrase. The Shepherd (15:6) and Woman (15:9) celebrate with friends. The following parable says to make ‘friends’ (16:9). Older Bro can’t enjoy goat or his friends unless someone is absent. Who?
15:29 shows Older Bro wants Father absent. Friends + meat are no good if Dad’s there.

So the one who wanted his father dead is not Younger Bro, who wanted the inheritance, but Older Bro, who wanted Dad out of the way.
‘This son of yours who devoured your livelihood with prostitutes...’ (15:30). How does Big Bro know? Postcards?

The only possible answer: his imagination. Why does he imagine Younger Bro with prostitutes? That's where he like to be.
When Father says ‘child, you are always with me and all my things are yours’ he’s speaking the literal truth. Older Bro owns everything. He is invited to enjoy his proximity and privilege.
The parable ends leaving the Older Bro’s response unstated. This is not necessarily cos Older Bro rejects, but cos the open ending is an invitation to those like him to respond.
You love money and are a Pharisee (16:14) and have never transgressed commands (15:29). You are Israel’s heirs. How do you feel about toll collectors and sinners who’ve worked against Israel rejoining the family? This applies way beyond historic Pharisees.
It’s easy to demonize Pharisees, but we need to understand how normal they are. When it says they ‘loved money’ there’s no reason to think this refers to particularly high level of greed, unusual in West today. Pharisees are orthodox, family based + hard working.
So this challenges us. How do we feel about people who waste our money? Angry? Ever felt tax-payer indignation? Jesus tells money-lovers two adjacent parables about 'wasters' (15:13; 16:1) + surprisingly gracious responses of those who had their resources wasted (15:20; 16:8).
How do we religious types, feel about the sorts of people we might despise getting fast-tracked into God’s kingdom? Won’t it change the look of our churches? Will our group be able to hold onto power?
I’m concluding here my series on #Parableof2Sons which has not expounded the whole, but has mainly focussed on what can get missed. If you think it’s helpful please RT.
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