Saturday, March 18, 2006

The parable of the prodigal son

Something of St. Augustine that I read quite some time ago finally sunk in today! Perhaps it was because the Church in her wisdom links Luke 15:1-2 with the prodigal son parable Luke 15:11ff (the 'bookends' thing).

Luke 15:1-3; 11-32
Parables of God's Mercy
[1] Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him (Jesus). [2] And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."

The Prodigal Son
[3] So He told them this parable:
[and you know the rest of the story!]

St. Augustine, commenting on verse 1 and 2, made an interesting observation. Since under the old law, to touch a leper was to be unclean, but for Jesus to touch a leper was to heal him, to touch a dead body was to become unclean, and also when Jesus touched the dead they came to life. Likewise, the sinner, in the company of the Lord, repented and became a new creation in the Lord. Thus, the Pharisees, seeing the old and not aware of the new persons they had become, are actually in error in their accusation, as we err if we agree with them.

Here is the connection: Jesus chooses not to say “you err in what you say,” but instead instructs by parables. At one level, the prodigal son parable can be seen as an instruction for the Pharisees who have falsely accused Jesus of receiving sinners, for their judgement is of the old man, the prodigal still serving the swine; they are unaware of the repentance of the son who returns to the father; in this they are figured by the older brother in the parable.

In the fuller sense, there are three parables; the shepherd searching for the lost sheep, the prodigal returning, and the unjust steward. Thus, Jesus explains in the first what He does (searching for the lost sheep and bringing them back), in the second, the effects of grace on the soul of the lost (the prodigal), and in the third, what he expects of His stewards (once the pharisees, now the pastors). Rather wonderful!

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