The parable of the lost sons. Yup, both of them! – 4th Sunday of Lent – Luke 15: 1-3, 11- 32

So the unanswered question of the parable is, “Did the elder brother go in to the banquet or not?” This is the question we should be asking ourselves, because the Bible says nothing on the matter. But we don’t, because the problem lies in the fact that we have got caught up with a beautiful parable, turned it into an allegory and lost the plot! The parable of what has come to be known as the ‘prodigal son’ is not about the younger son or about this amazingly forgiving father’. It’s all about this elder son, equally lost and horribly hate filled. Incidentally, the word “prodigal” is an adjective that means wasteful or spendthrift. Luke doesn’t actually call his character the “prodigal son”. It’s a modern title, that’s all.

A parable is starkly different from an allegory. In an allegory, we assign meaning to each of the characters and compare them to the spiritual categories in our head, where the ideas in the story are symbolized as people.  So you can have as many ‘ideas’ as you can have characters. For example, the father stands for God; the younger son is wayward humanity and so on.  A parable on the other hand, is designed to present a moral with a single point agenda; in this case the agenda is the Pharisees. It is to them that the parable is spoken in verse 2, for their angst against Jesus is splattered all over the gospel pages.

So what’s the background to all of this? The cause of ‘the grumbling’ of the Pharisees is plain; Jesus is ‘hanging out with the wrong crowd’ (5:29-32; 7:37-39; 19:7). But Jesus has never changed His agenda! He repeatedly insists that He has come precisely for such “sinners”, as well as other social outcasts, who are coming out in droves to listen to His teaching (15:1-2). To this moral outrage of eating with sinners, the Pharisees found themselves at the receiving end of, not one, but three parables in Luke 15. So what did they do so wrong?

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