3 weeks ago my blog briefly mentioned that in the Prodigal Son Parable, the father ran out to meet his son. It also implied that immediately, the father spoke with his servants who were right there with him. This week I’ll summarize how the Prodigal Son Parable impacted on me more than any other parable as I learned about cultural differences. The author, Bailey, wrote:
…the startling fact is…to my knowledge, in all of Middle Eastern literature…there is no case of any son, older or younger, asking for his inheritance from a father…still in good health…all the more remarkable because…the division of…inheritance…gives him ownership without the right to dispose of his share…he pressures his father into granting him full disposition immediately…. The implication of “Father, I cannot wait for you to die” underlies both requests…all the more remarkable that the father concurs.
The next surprising aspect is the cultural expectations among the villagers. Bailey explains in Christ’s era village members were all very unified with each other in identity, beliefs, purpose—in everything. A whole village would take offense if one of their villagers was offended. Given the intensity of this truth, and the extent of the offense involved, there’s no doubt the whole village would be enraged with this wayward son.
The prodigal will be mocked by a crowd…slander of a…town…gathering of a mob. As soon as the prodigal reaches the edge of the village and is identified…will be subject to taunt songs and many…types of verbal…perhaps even physical abuse. The father is fully aware…in this homecoming scene…a series of dramatic actions calculated to protect the boy from the hostility…to restore him to fellowship with the community. These actions begin with the father running down the road. An Oriental nobleman with flowing robes never runs anywhere. To do so is humiliating…a man’s manner of walking tells you what he is…so very undignified in Eastern eyes for an elderly man to run…he had compassion…such an action would soon draw a crowd to the spot. The father makes the reconciliation public at the edge of the village…the boy, having steeled his nerves for this gauntlet, now, to his utter amazement, sees his father run it for him…the love expressed is too profound for words.
The son had been planning to beg for the status of a hired servant.
If the prodigal works as a hired servant, he will not be eating his brother’s bread…everything left in the estate is legally signed over to his brother…the older brother will most likely resent the prodigal’s presence. Living at home would entail reconciliation to his brother…he works out an alternative that makes this…unnecessary…as a “hired servant” he will be a free man with his own income living independently in the local village…may be able to pay back what he has lost…will save himself. He wants no grace.
Bailey also details how the ancient Jewish rabbis taught repentance is a work that makes us worthy of God, in contrast to what the Bible teaches.
The son responds with only a part of his prepared speech…. He is shattered by his father’s demonstration of love in humiliation. In his state of apprehension and fear he would naturally experience this unexpected deliverance as an utterly overwhelming event. Now he knows that he cannot offer any solution to their ongoing relationship. He sees that the point is not the lost money, but…the broken relationship which he cannot heal…. To assume that he can compensate his father with labor is an insult. “I am unworthy” is now the only appropriate response.
Have you also made this appropriate response to God?
The above artwork was scanned and edited from Daily Life at the Time of Jesus, by Miriam Feinberg Vamosh