04 November 2015

Culturally Understanding the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) Pt 4

In the prior three parts I have been looking into the cultural aspects and understandings of the actual surface level story of the prodigal son. How would those listening in the first century have understood the finer points of the story? By understanding how they understood it, we can better understand it. Now I wish to examine the underlying story, the application side as it was being directed and applied to those hearing it at the time. Sadly this is not the angle or depth that is taken by most commentators that I examined. The cultural and historical application of it seems to have almost been totally lost in mainstream teachings. As mentioned before, most simply see this is an example of how God welcomes and loves any repentant sinner that comes to him.
The problem I have with that assessment is that it does not fit the relevance of what is being said, to whom it is being said, and doesn’t fit the players in the story. If you recall, this chapter contains three parables, this being the third in the trilogy of stories.  The chapter starts by stating:

And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2 ESV)

So, we know some of the main people being addressed here by Yeshua are the Pharisees as usual. One thing that people seem to gloss over in the story is that it is two sons and a father - the father and two children already related to him. The father figure in the story represents Yahweh, and the sons are children of God – part of his family in the beginning. And one of the children forsakes the family and leaves.

The Pharisees listening to this story represent those two tribes of Israel that are still serving and maintaining a covenant relationship with Yahweh. They are the older brother in the story. That alone should assist in revealing that the younger son is not representative of just sinners returning to God in general. The one returning is one that beforehand was in close covenant with God – not a stranger to God and the covenant as everyday people coming to God would be.

03 November 2015

Culturally Understanding the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) Pt 3

In the first two parts we looked at the prodigal son himself. His request, his leaving, he ruin and his return. After his return, the attention is then turned to the older son who returns home to the celebration.

"Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. (Luke 15:25-28a ESV)

In their culture, the eldest brother is the one responsible for assisting in the reconciliation process between the father and younger brothers if the need arose. This older brother should have stepped in way back at the begging of the story, and tried wholeheartedly to stop the younger brother from doing what he was doing in breaking the father’s heart to begin with, but he did not.

The older brother was obviously not doing his duty – he was not being respectful to the father or loving to the brother. Now that the brother has returned, he is more upset and refuses to even join the party. In doing so he is showing his hatred of his brother, as well as disrespecting the father himself, and he deserves punishment now himself.

02 November 2015

Culturally Understanding the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) Pt 2

In part one we began looking at the prodigal son parable, covering through where he has left his people, cut all ties and rights to them, took everything he owned and lived recklessly and lost everything. He had nothing left, nowhere to go and of course could not simply call his parents to come and pick him up.he  He knows going home would mean dealing with the ridicule of the rest of the village, as well as that of his brother who now has the rights of the rest of the father’s possessions.

These options are not ones he can bare to deal with, not at this point and time at least. Instead, he chose another route:

So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. (Luke 11:15 ESV)

It is the fact that pigs are mentioned here that most commentators say he was living, spending, and now working among the Gentiles. The word here translated as hired in our text, is often translated as “joined to” and comes from the root word meaning to glue or attach. It is used elsewhere to refer to everything from dust clinging (Luke 10:11) to joining oneself with a prostitute (1 Cor. 6:16).

01 November 2015

Culturally Understanding the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) Pt 1

Most people familiar with biblical stories, have heard of the well-known parable commonly referred to as the Prodigal son, which is found in Luke 15:11-32. Now most all bible scholars will tell you that you should never push the symbolism or story line of a parable too far, and that the main thrust of the message is more important that all of the little details one can try to pull from it – and this is true.

And while this is a fairly simple story as far as the amount of details we have, there is still a lot that can be missed simply because we are of a different cultural background than the original hearers.

Lately at our church we have been learning more and more about the cultural surroundings of the first century writings, especially the Hebrew mindset behind them. This same Hebrew understanding needs to be applied to the parables, like this one.

There would be points and details that they would have immediately grasped and story gaps that they would have filled in simply because of their background and understanding. So, I would like to dig into this story a bit, and examine this story in light of some of the cultural surroundings and understandings that may escape us, and to fill in some pieces that we may miss.