This Week’s Passage: Luke 15:1-2 & 11-32
Highlights: Foolishness: What parent would allow a child to wander off to certain problems? Foolishness: Restoration rather than restitution. Wisdom: Restoration does not harm others. The dutiful son’s inheritance would not be diminished by the prodigal’s return.
I. Establish the text
C. Other texts for Year B for 3rd Sunday in Lent
- First Reading Exodus 20:1-17
- Psalm Psalm 19:1-14
- Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
- Gospel John 2:13-22
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
1-2 The audience for these parables, tax-collectors and sinners in the presence of Pharisees, parallels the characters in the third parable.
11-12 One son asks for his share the other presumes it is his. Tax collectors gathered close to Jesus, while the Pharisees and scribes grumbled about who Jesus was including.
12b Foolishness: What father would divide his estate before his death!
13 Foolishness: What father would allow his child to wander off to certain problems?
Why a distant land? Was he ashamed to do these things in the presence of his friends?
14 Poverty compounded! Instead of compounded interest, natural disaster compounds reckless spending.
15 Repentance begins with self responsibility.
16 Minimum wages jobs did not pay a living wage, nor do they today.
17 Repentance begins by giving thanks.
18-19 Repentance is resurrection! But is this repentance or merely a plan for better working conditions?
20 Foolishness: Compassion before confession!
21-24 Foolishness: Restoration rather than restitution.
Does the father interrupt the son’s planned confession or does the son omit his planned pledge of submission to not insult the compassion his father has already expressed?
25-27 The party started even before people could return from the fields. No invitations. Did the elder son feel he had been snubbed?
28-30 Self righteousness blocks restoration of self and others.
28 The dutiful son plays by the rules for success and receives no reward. While the wayward is rewarded.
31 Wisdom: Restoration does not harm others. The dutiful son’s inheritance would not be diminished by the prodigal’s return.
32 Wisdom: For what woman having searched to find a lost coin does not rejoices on finding it. What man having lost a lamb, does not invite his neighbors to celebrate on finding it. Thus, how much more would we celebrate on the repentance of a child.
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- Skips over parables of rejoicing over a found coin and over a found lamb.
F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?
- 21 Several respectable translations add to the end: /poihson me ws ena twn misqiwn sou/ “make me as one of your hired servants” thus completing the pledge he had planned earlier. Several more expansive manuscripts (A L W) omit this phrase. Thus many modern translations relegate it to a marginal note. The addition eases the radical nature of grace.
II. Literary Study.
B. What is the context of the passage, and the book?
- Preceded by two parables on rejoicing on finding relatively small items after sacrificing much.
- Followed by parable of the dishonest manager and the rich man and Lazarus.
- Collectively, these five parables tell of God rejoicing for inward renewal and repentance.
C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms
- 2 The grumbling of the Pharisees foreshadows the elder son’s grumbling (vv. 29 & 30).
- 13 REB and TEV interpret “having gathered everything”as getting cash for his share of the property.
- 13 /aswtws/ Occurs only here in the New Testament. Translations include: wild (NIV), reckless (TEV), dissolute (NRSV, REB), debauchery (NJB).
- 18 /anastas/ second aorist active participle, nominative singular indicative, “having arisen”. Also used by Luke to describes Jesus’ resurrection.
- 22 Robe would be a ritual garment not worn while working, the ring a symbol of authority, and sandals an item not worn by slaves/servants.
- 23, 27, & 30 /quw/ used for ritual slaughtering rather than simply butchering.
- 32 /ezhsen/ aorist active indicative 3rd person singular, “he lived”. A literal translation conveys recognition of a faithful remnant in the death of sin. Typical modern translations render this as “has come to life” or “is now alive,” capturing repentance as resurrection.
D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?
- This is the longest parable and most complicated parable, yet it remains compact through careful word choice and construction.
- The unresolved reaction of the elder son invites the reader to celebrate with God.
III. Question the text.
A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.
Prodigal suffers a fall from wealth to poverty where he recognized the gifts of his former life. He is last seen standing dumbfounded by grace.
Father accedes to the Prodigal’s wishes. The reader is shielded to the father’s grief until the last verse, when it is combined with joy. But will the elder son also enter his joy?
Elder Son feels robbed. Years of toil to live within the rules have gained him nothing. The rewards of life have been given to the Prodigal who merited punishment. Would he recognize that he also was loved, so he too could celebrate his brother’s return?
Tax Collectors and Sinners listening to this story might hear improbable grace.
Pharisees and Scribes listening might hear the father’s compassion that they may have for their children, yet they would also expect retribution and restitution.
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Emotional Center: The Father forgives before the son has an opportunity to fully express his remorse and offer of recompense.
- Music: “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ”
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
- Younger Son rebels against the status quo and leaves home.
- Father forgives without expectation of repentance and restitution.
- Elder brother does not forgive and misses the party.
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
John Noland (Word Biblical Commentary: Volume 35B: Luke 9:21-18:34. Word Books, 1993) notes the younger son’s hiring himself out marks the transition from the freedom he sought in demanding his inheritance, to servitude. The elder son not getting even a goat contrasts with the parable of the generous landowner (Matthew 20:1-16). Here the pious son is not even treated as an equal, but as an inferior to the repentant Prodigal. Noland suggests the father wants the elder son to recognize the enrichment of the family by the Prodigal’s return, which should not disturb those who have labored endlessly, for they are only regaining lost brothers.
Robert Karris (“The Gospel According to Luke,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Doubleday, 1985) notes that the story plays on other brother stories in which the younger triumphs over the older; Jacob and Esau and Joseph and his brothers.
Fred Craddock (Interpretation: Luke. John Knox Press, 1990.) notes how this parable, like the preceding two, is known by what was lost rather than by the joy of finding. He suggests renaming them as: “the found sheep,” “the found coin,” and “the loving father.” He recommends that preachers concentrate on the brilliance of the diamond of joy in finding rather than in the dark, velvet, blackness from which the diamond shines. He reminds us that grace completes justice.
John R. Donahue (The Gospel in Parable. Fortress Press, 1988) identifies the father as the main character, even though each of the sons draw emotional responses. He notes that the demand for inheritance was not exceptionally out of the ordinary, but when the Prodigal gathers his share and leaves he broke his family and his relationship to Abraham. He cites Deuteronomy 21:18-21 to rationalize the elder son’s expectation of death for the rebellious son. He contrasts the Prodigal’s offer of servitude to restore family relationships with the elder son’s practice of maintaining family by being a slave.
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
- Repentant sinners are welcomed home. Grace completes justice.
- The Church should not complain when God welcomes sinners, but should join in the party.
- Much of our estrangement is self inflicted by slavery to maintaining or restoring relationships and things.
B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.
- God awaits our return with outstretched arms, but seeking penance or justice is easier.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?
- Recognize the falsehood of the success myth and experience the compassion of our loving God who welcomes us home.
- Recognize that laboring for success has no pay off.