The so-called parable of the prodigal son, Luke 15:11-32, is the 3d in Klyne Snodgrass’ treatment of the parables of lostness (Stories with Intent).
Famously, many have emphasized the the word “prodigal,” which means excessive, should be applied to the father of this parable instead of to the sinfulness of the son. Ah, why have to choose between these two?!
Again, the genius of this work by Snodgrass is its display of issues and evidence and questions that arise in the interpretation of the parable. The reader is given all that is needed for understanding. A good display of primary source material, with a clear statement that none of his from the Jewish directly impacts the parable but does provide material for understanding world and themes, etc.. I wish more would be so circumspect with the evidence.
One of the more interesting backgrounds is the Torah on the rebellious son (Deut 21:17-21). I give the text here because it may not be in your memory:
He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him. If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, ?This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.? Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid. If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.
1. Disrespect of parents was shaming and denounced in the Middle East.
2. Prodigals were uniformly denounced as well.
3. Farming swine was despicable in the Jewish world.
4. Running exposed legs and that was shameful.
5. Snodgrass concludes that many of Bailey’s parallels of the parable with Psalm 23 and the Jacob story are overdrawn or exaggerated.
6. Forgiveness and joy evoke the Jubilee theme of Luke 4:16-30.
7. The son’s request for an early inheritance, though imaginable in that world, was unusual and would have been disapproved.
8. Many “who focus on the sociological approaches become more intrigued with the culture than with the parable, more with what is not there than with what is” (132). There is a golden gem, I’ll tell you. I have myself done this a few times.
9. The parable needs to be read out of its context — table fellowship with sinners (Lk 15:1-2). Everything flows out of that.
10. The parable shows the Pharisees were not disowned; they were invited to sit at Jesus’ table and embrace the gracious work of God with sinners. But, the parable is a contrast between the father’s attitude and the elder son’s attitude toward the repentant: God is joyous, the older son stingy.
The parable shows the extravagant compassion of the father (God).
The parable invites us to join the celebration.
The parable defends Jesus’ relations at table with sinners who repent.