A Father Had Two Sons

The parables reflect the genius and the authoritative nature of the teaching of Jesus. They prod us to imaginative thinking. We assess the thoughts of others while simultaneously re-assessing our own ideas. These stories challenge our stereotypes, our prejudices, and our priorities. They usually do not resolve the way that we expect. We must avoid allegorizing every detail as well as assigning to them clichéd interpretations.

The parable of the lost son (aka the prodigal son) does not resolve. It is not meant to. A father has two sons, the younger whose frivolity is indulged, and the older whose apparent fidelity is perceived as ignored. There is continual tension throughout, even though there is a hint of reconciliation as the younger son returns home after wasting his ill-gotten inheritance. There are echoes of this dynamic in the Old Testament. Adam is the father of Cain and Abel, Abraham bears Ishmael and Isaac, and Isaac in turn fathers Esau and Jacob. In each of these actual families there is the difficult exploration of family coupled with an evaluation of the purposes of God.

Jesus is provoking his audience with hints of larger concepts throughout the story. These include repentance and forgiveness, conversion, reconciliation, and even resurrection. He is preparing them for the “breaking in” nature of His kingdom which was to be inaugurated at the cross. No interpretation of this parable is easy or comfortable.

This story, found in Luke 15, is among the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Each of these describes something or someone lost and eventually found. The response or result is great celebration.