09 September 2013

Review: The Cross & the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants - Kenneth Bailey

The Cross & the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants
The Cross & the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants by Kenneth E. Bailey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy Bailey's style, and this book was a bit less technical than some of his others, making it even more easy to read and grasp. He takes a relatively short story and expands on the underlying concepts and cultural understandings that the original hearers would have grasped when they heard it. He adds so much background story to it, that it really comes to life more.

My only complaint, and it is a relatively slight one in light of the whole story, is that Bailey kind of misses the mark in identifying the parties of the story. In identifying the prodigal son as just mankind, he misses the covenant significance behind it. The father figure is indeed representative of Yahweh as he points out, but the older son would be representative of the two southern tribes that were technically still within the covenant with the Father, with the prodigal son representing the ten Northern tribes who were not. Like the prodigal son, those tribes were cast out, dispersed throughout the nations, but they were promised (as seen in Isaiah, Hosea and Ezekiel 37, and elsewhere) that one day they were to be brought back into the fold. As we see this beginning to happen under the ministry of Paul, we see the building frustration of the Pharisees who were dealing unkindly to the idea, just as the older son in the story did.

But as I said, while this is a technical issue of sorts, it doesn't really alter the thrust of this book's underlying story, that of the Father's love even for the people who despised him beforehand, but were now returning to the fold. I just think that bringing in that identification would add a slightly deeper meaning to the story, as well as bringing in the connection and tying together the promises from the OT that were about to take place.

Even without that though, he brings out the extent of the Father's love, which bends over backwards in the face of cultural mandates, and acts in a way that is so contrary to the actions required of someone in the father's position, that it should bring the readers to a greater appreciation of what Yahweh has done for His people.

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A few months after reading this book I had a chance to fill in at the pulpit and choose to preach on this topic, using Bailey heavily for the first half of the sermon message as a background. The second half of the sermon is focused on the "Who" of the brothers, a lack of dealing with that subject is the only little issue or my main complaint with Bailey's book. Here is the sermon for your viewing pleasure: