Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The prodigal son, and his older brother

The parable of the prodigal son is a fertile arena tells us God, His church, forgiveness and the gospel in ways that don't immediately strike us on reading. Some recent thoughts:

Luke 15.26, "And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant." Echoes (or precursor, more accurately) of Acts 8.30-31, "And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me?"

The sadness of vss. 27-28 is that the older son is angry at the gospel. The prodigal is home, forgiven, and -- with music and dancing -- an echo of 15.10, "joy in the presence of the angels of God." But the older son is so angry at the joy of the gospel that he himself will not even go in to the celebration. Obviously, the older son is angry at his brother: he cannot bring himself to even refer to the prodigal as his brother, but spits out this referent, "this thy son." (vs. 30) But his anger is at the free forgiveness and kindness of his father, and ultimately at the very nature of his father, which delights in mercy. (cf. Micah 7.18)

Vs. 29 seems likewise a precursor of 19.21, with the stinging accusations against God, "For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow."

But I think that vs. 30 is the most amazing. In the light of this gall and bitterness on the older son's part, the father responds, " Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine." The gospel is freely given, not only to the repentant son, but to the older son, who has bragged about his good works while judging and condemning his sinful brother.

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