The Other Brother

The parables of Jesus are interesting and complex. There was a time when people believed that parables were complete allegories, and every detail of the parable had a corresponding truth in the real world. For example, I always get a nerdy kick out of reading Augustine’s analysis of The Good Samaritan. Throughout the ages theologians have hypothesized about the best way to interpret parables. For a while we thought that parables had to have one central idea that was the main theme of the parable. But what we have come to realize is that parables have multiple layers of meaning and can be viewed from many different perspectives. 

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Thanks! For a long time I never understood why people saw/preached/taught only one meaning in the parables. It seemed obvious, to me, that when taken in context alternate ideas/meanings were right in front of us.


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I think the primary lesson that Christ wanted his audience to learn was a lesson about being the “older brothers.”
Perhaps, you have discovered these concepts for the first time, however, our church has been emphasizing the lessons from the elder son too from the beginning. Ellen White did it and I have heard this preached by many pastors and have read articles in our church publications. So this is not anything new to consider, but a reminder at best.

Have been an SDA all my life and attended church across the US, both university and college locations. I have only heard the older brother mentioned in terms of the negative, except for one pastor.


There is no biblical author who matches the brilliance of Luke. To describe him as a physician and historian is grossly inadequate; he was a hermeneutist. Long before Hans-Georg Gadamer and the conventionally-regarded philosophical turn in hermeneutics that occurred in the twentieth century, Luke set forth a philosophical hermeneutics. Luke turned on its head the conventional notion that hermeneutics from the beginning of time has teleologically progressed from methodology to philosophy. While Hillel was playing tic-tac-toe with his seven rules of interpretation, Luke was playing three-dimensional chess as he wrote Luke-Acts. Luke’s brilliance is so other-worldly that his hermeneutical insights are nowhere attested to in the literature. Readers, including Christendom’s greatest theologians, have failed to grasp what lies under the surface of his writings.

Luke, the hermeneutist of Scripture, grapples with the problem of understanding, as suggested by the bookends of Acts in which the disciples non-understanding of when Christ would establish His kingdom is mirrored by the non-understanding of those addressed in Paul’s final oration. In Luke’s Gospel, he models his Christology on the liminal and marginal Hermes, the messenger of the gods. In a nutshell, Luke’s philosophical hermeneutics is the simple but profound idea that all understanding is mediated.

The Prodigal Son does not understand what his return home means. The older brother does not understand what the Father’s actions toward the Prodigal Son mean. The father mediates understanding to both of them. This is just one of Luke’s many comparisons, which I don’t have time and space to discuss, between Jesus and Hermes. Not knowing what all of those comparisons are, you might say, “Big deal.” Well, let’s go deeper.

Hermes is a trickster and patron god of thieves. He mediates in the liminal and marginal space between the lawful world and the criminal world, between the holy and the profane. Therefore, Luke recognized the importance of having Jesus occupy that same liminal and marginal space. But Jesus is not set forth merely as similar to Hermes but superior to Hermes in Luke’s many comparisons. So we see that Jesus defies numerous conventions and is regarded as a sinner, but He does not actually sin. Like Hermes, Jesus is a thief in the night, but whereas Hermes takes, Jesus bestows. The story of the boy Jesus is a mimesis of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, but whereas Hermes steals Apollo’s cattle, the accused boy Jesus is not guilty of wrongdoing. Jesus by conventional standards sins by befriending tax collectors and prostitutes, but we readers correctly discern that He does not actually sin. The father in the parable does not by conventional standards act appropriately, but we correctly discern based upon his explanation that he does. Jesus is like a tightrope walker who never falls off the wire. It is not enough that Jesus is fully divine and fully human; his humanity must mediate the liminal and marginal space between the godly and the profane in order to mediate understanding to sinful humanity.


Every parable and story in the Bible is aimed at each of us individually.

Wastefully extravagant is a definition for prodigal. The younger brother was wastefully extravagant and so was the Father.

Life is short!

Jesus was a prodigal.

I have been like the younger brother - a wasteful sinner, and I have been like the older brother - a critical and wasteful hoarder.

Much to think about.


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