The Other One

(system) #1

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.

One of the most famous parables ever is the parable of the Prodigal Son, found at the end of Luke 15. Most Christians are familiar with the story of the young son who took his inheritance early, spent it foolishly and found himself living amongst swine. We marvel at the grace of the ever-loving Father, who welcomes his son with open arms, running to meet the son as he comes trudging home in shame, asking only to be a servant in his father’s house. As sinners who see ourselves as coming home, we see ourselves so clearly in the story of the younger son. How many of us have gone off into a far country and spent the grace of Father in riotous living? We are grateful that our Heavenly Father has been willing to welcome us home. So many people have been moved by this story. But I have always wondered whether this was the primary message that Jesus wanted his audience to hear.

Context is important when looking at parables. The context is important here as well. If the parable were primarily about sinners returning home, then we should expect that the telling of the parable would be in that real world context. This is not the case. At the beginning of Luke 15, sinners and tax collectors are coming to Jesus and listening to Him speak. When the Pharisees see this, they begin to criticize Jesus for welcoming these types of people into his company. In response to their criticism, Jesus tells 3 parables – the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son. The important point is that the parables are given in response to criticism from those established church members who are upset that Jesus spends time with sinners. Furthermore, I have found that we are often so fixated on the return of the son in the story that we forget that the parable does not end there. The parable actually ends on a scene with the older brother and the father. When the older brother realizes what has happened, he criticizes the father for giving all these gifts to the wayward son, and laments that he has never received such favor despite the fact that he has been faithful. The father answers the son’s criticism saying, “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.” This is the father’s answer to the son, and this is Jesus’ answer to the criticism of the Pharisees and scribes. This was the primary thing that Jesus wanted those Pharisees to hear. Jesus wants them to know that God still loves them and cares for them, in the same way that the father loves and cares for his older son. But Jesus also wants them to rejoice for the sinners who are just now beginning to live again because of Jesus’ ministry. He wants them to be happy for those who are coming home after being lost in the world for so long.

I think the primary lesson that Christ wanted his audience to learn was a lesson about being the “older brothers.” He wanted us to learn about how to treat the younger brothers who are coming home. Instead of criticism, or scorn, or derision, we should treat them the way the father treats his son. We should be overjoyed at their return and willing to give of what we have to make them feel comfortable and welcome in the house of the Father. Those of us who have been in the church a long time (or people like me who never really left) this parable is about us. I am not saying we should never see ourselves as the younger brother who strays, but it is just as important that we see ourselves in the older brother as well. When we remind ourselves that we are often in the position of the older brother, we remind ourselves to avoid that brother’s mistake and show the love of the Father to those who are coming home.

Jason Hines is an attorney and doctoral student in Religion, Politics, and Society at the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

without question the point of the story was the elder brother. his audience was the elder brother. we churched are the elder brother. but what a picture of God the parable gives us. praise God, I had a dad like that. It has been my goal to be a reasonable fax of that. Tom Z.

(Steve Mga) #3

If Jesus was the Pastor of a congregation, He would have a sign outside saying — ALL ARE WELCOME — NO EXCLUSIONS.
Unfortunately, Jesus is NOT pastoring all of our SDA church congregations and so we are exclusionary, we screen those wanting to worship God in our facilities. If they Do Not meet our qualifications we tell them to wait until tomorrow [SUNDAY] and do so down the street.
When we were on Discus, there were quite a few who posted the same, or said to “start their own church”.
SDAs – laity and persons of the cloth are prone to be like the Pharisees when it comes to “sinners”. We dont want to admit it, but in practice we are.
We like to tell everyone, WE are Law Abiding church, IF you are not Law Abiding, go some place else.

(Sirje) #4

Actually Jesus seems to have just one message he wants to get across - that God’s kingdom is about to come and he is going inaugurating it. The Jews had always seen themselves as a special people - God’s people - and everyone else as being outside this special relationship. This was about to be changed. The older brother represents the Jews, the favorite son who never left; and the gentiles, who wandered away from this special relationship, will be returning - being “grafted” into the family tree.

All the parables point to the same theme - the coming of the kingdom - the pearl of great price, the lost coin; the workers in the vineyard. Inaugurating this new world order is Jesus; and hallmark of God’s kingdom is healing and forgiveness. All the dead Jesus resurrected eventually died, including Lazarus; but the message of his resurrection heralded Jesus’ own.

Jesus came with an enhanced Word from God, superseding both the law and the prophets (Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration); and God is heralding His message through Jesus as he becomes Christ through his death and resurrection.

How’s that?

(Rohan Charlton) #5

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.’

To me, this is one of the most beautiful texts in the bible. Such assurance and affirmation.

ALWAYS with me…ALL that I have…

Easy to forget when we try to ‘go it alone’.

(Steve Mga) #6

Jesus always taught the concept of “Embracing”. He even tried to teach the concept of Embracing their Roman rulers all the way down to the soldier private. Had they done so, had they understood the Book of Daniel, they would have known that Rome would pass away and they would still be Israel.
In the OT, God is embracing. This is the way he conquors. Enlarging His circle.

(George Tichy) #7

If I were pastoring a church (or even owned one… much better!) the sign would be,

(Saints, please precede down the road to the other Church)

(Gerhard Dr Svrcek Seiler) #8

Thank you very much for turning our eyes a little away from the “Prodigal Son” or the "Lost Son"to the - as I see it - message Jesus wanted to say to his auditorium - and to us.

As I learned from a sermon of Otto Chrastek (+) a real Homme de lettres and adminstrator of our local publishing house, Andre Gide in 1907 has written his version of the parable - the time after - - the other son now leaving and not cowardly coming back. The novel is attributed to his Calvinistic upbringing.

But let us dwell on that you displayed for us !

(Allen Shepherd) #9

I, in my whole life, have never heard a son give such a complement to his father. I have admired your stories of him here, showing his integrity. A worthy model. You were a blessed son.

(Allen Shepherd) #10

You’ve got it wrong, niteguy2.

All are welcome to worship, gays, lesbians, Pharisees and sinners alike. I have a bunch in my churches. All however cannot be members, as it is required that a change occur. The parable tells us that the boy came to himself, and returned. A realization that the self is not whole is required to be a member.

Would you have molesters members without that realization, or any other abuser for that matter? It is a practical matter, really. Reformation is required.

(Allen Shepherd) #11


I think you missed the point of the article above. The parable is addressed to the pharisees primarily, the very ones you are asking to go downy he street. Jesus wanted them with him, as well as the sinners.

(Allen Shepherd) #12

And that addressed to the pharisees! Astounding love, even including those who eventually slew him. Shows why a great company of pharisees joined the church at Pentecost.
An absolutely excellent book on the parables is one: “Through Peasant’s Eyes”. Written by a man who lived in the middle east from many years. His comments on this parable are worth the price of the book.

For instance, the Father ran out to meet the son because he wanted to get to him first. if the villagers saw him first, they would have stoned him for his horrible sin against the father and the community itself. So, in order to protect him, he ran and covered him with his robe to signify acceptance into his home. Very moving.

(Rohan Charlton) #13

Thanks for the recommend!Sounds like a book i’d love to read.

(George Davidovich) #14

I would like to visit one of your churches someday!

(George Tichy) #15

I am not sure Allen wants to see any George at his church any soon… lol

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #16

Moving, indeed. I notice that the father watched for the Prodigal’s return in order to protect & thereby accept him—before knowing what brought the son home. There’s no teaching in this Parable that verifying reformation is required. If anything, the son’s reformation we assume is a result of being declared unconditionally welcome, accepted, & forgiven. The practical issues of protecting the vulnerable from abusers & exploiters is a separate matter.

(Allen Shepherd) #17

Interesting, hopeful.

  1. Why would he come home if he had not repented? And would he be willing to be under the father’s rule if he had not forsaken his sinful ways?
  2. The other option is that he would continue his life of sin at home. I was rebuked for suggesting such a course a few months ago, one offended that i would even think that a prodigal would do such a thing. (I am acquainted with children who come home without reformation.) But you think that it is a normal happening? So, coming along with him, in rags as well, is a prostitute that he introduces to the father saying, “Dad, this is Roxie, a friend of mine, I would like to stay with us, in my room. Thanks for the coat and shoes. Does she get some stuff too?”

I think that if there is no reformation, it would be a bit awkward to say the least. And in the parable, he came to himself, before he went to the father, so the reformation had begun in the far country: Note also what he was going to say when he arrived. So the reformation began before he made a step towards home.

Are you interested in unreformed individuals becoming members? Peter in Act 2 said to the convicted crowds, Repent, and be baptized. So I think you are on shaky ground here. Nevertheless, any can attend.

(Allen Shepherd) #18

We do have folks at the doors screening for all whose name is George, just in case some, ah, well, undesirables should try to get in. People named hopeful, and any of his friends would never be turned back, however. Of course they would need a cover letter saying they had repented…

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #19

Desperation? To ask for money? My point is that the father acted without knowing. We can draw lessons about required reformation from other places, but this specific Parable teaches the shockingly generous grace of the Father.

(Allen Shepherd) #20

I’m a bit confused here. Can we base our behavior regarding the acceptance of others on this one parable? Do not the other places have something to say to our reception of those who want to join us? I agree that the parable shows a large grace, but you emphasize the lack of knowledge of the father as determinative, and I am not sure that is what Jesus is teaching.

It is just that knowing of children that do come home and make it hell for the parents (drinking, driving under the influence, stealing from the parents, destroying property, and multitudes of other horrors), that a blanket acceptance seems naive to me. Perhaps I have been burned or seen others burned in such a way, that I would not just welcome a child in so readily. I think the father showed great love, running out, waiting, hoping, and maybe I need to be more that way, but I have seen the problems caused by unrepentant kids, and I am leery of a blanket acceptance. You may call me evil, or what ever you like, but I think we have to be careful.

I recall a case where the treasurer of a church had a son that stole money from the offerings, and even said would pay it back. But didn’t. Should the individual be allowed to be treasurer again? Should the child be made to repay? Should the child be welcomed back into fellowship without some evidence for reform?

Your grace alone approach seems really nice. But as I recall, Jesus also said to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. I like that combo. And I think our actions require both. I am curious about your answer.