Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Parable of the Two Sons

We had our Lenten Bible Study last night on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, or more accurately, the Parable of the Two Sons.  It is to be found in Luke, chapter 15.  As you will know, the context of this parable is the Pharisees and the scribes grumbling and complaining that Jesus eats with ‘sinners’.    

Jesus responds to this criticism by then telling three parables designed to show what the right reaction should be to sinners who were lost, but who have now been found.  First, that of shepherd who rejoices when he finds the sheep and secondly, of the woman who rejoices when she finds her missing coin.  Both invite their friends and neighbours to join the celebration.

In the Parable of the Two Sons, the elder son refuses to join in the celebration that the Father organizes for his lost and found son.  The Pharisees are like this elder son.  They won’t join Jesus’ celebration with the lost and found sinners.

Interestingly, the parable does not tell us what happened after the Father explains the need to celebrate to the elder son.  Did the elder son go in and join the celebration, or did he storm off and have nothing to do with it?  We don’t know.  We do know, however, what the Pharisees, that the elder son represents, did.  They went off to plan the murder of this friend of sinners.

But there is a sequel. 

We know from St Luke’s sequel to the Gospel, the book of Acts, that some Pharisees became believers and Church members.  There were sufficient of them for them to have had a voice in the Jerusalem Church.  Indeed, it is the believing Pharisees that kick-off the so-called Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, taking a radically different position to that other believing Pharisee, St Paul.  The believing Pharisees are clearly behind the opposition to St Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.

We know from Galatians that this opposition meant that Peter and ‘even Barnabas’ in Antioch stopped eating with ‘Gentile sinners’ (Galatians 2:15) Wouldn’t it be interesting to know whether any of those who complained about Paul eating with ‘Gentile sinners’ had been amongst those who had complained about Jesus eating with the tax-collectors and sinners?  Whatever, the same attitude that led the Pharisees to condemn Jesus for eating with ‘sinners’ continued when the Pharisees became followers of Jesus. 

I wonder if St Luke made the connection when he was writing his two books?

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