Tonight we are gathering to discuss the elder son. Please read Part II (chapters 4-6) of Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal and Chapter 5 of Kenneth Bailey’s The Cross and the Prodigal. Please also study Rembrandt’s portrayal of the older son.
The older son (the Greek of which Bailey points out is presbyteros, or Elder, which is where we get our word “priest”) are the Pharisees in Jesus’ audience. I have always had great sympathy for the Pharisees. In Deuteronomy 29-30 where the Israelites renew the Covenant of the Law, God tells them that if they obey the law then they will prosper, and if they disobey the law then they will be oppressed. This understanding of the quid pro quo of God’s love plays out in the story of the Judges and in Kings where the Phoenicians, Assyrians, and Babylonians are seen as divine agents sent to punish the Israelites for disobedience. The Pharisees find themselves under Roman occupation, and based upon the promises set forth in the scriptures, God will only save them if they all are perfectly obedient to the black-letter rules of the scriptures. The Pharisee’s zealous obedience to the words of scripture, however, caused them to violate the basic spiritual underpinning of the scriptures. Luke 11:42. As you read through the parable again think about:
· Historical Context: What was the role of the elder son? Did the elder son actually do any work to attain his status? How did the elder son likewise show disrespect to the Father? How are the Pharisees the elder son in the parable?
· Contemporary Meaning: How would you retell the parable in the idiom of our contemporary society? In today’s world, would popular culture support the older son in his objections and disrespect?
· Spiritual Meaning: What is the basis of the older son’s relationship with the Father? Is there any hope for the elder son?
· Personalize: How are you the elder son? What is your trigger for acting like the elder son in the face of God’s grace? In what ways do you count your obedience to the rules as the basis for your relationship with God?
· Completion: Why doesn’t Jesus finish the parable? How would you conclude the story?
Dinner is at 6. The menu is baked potato bar. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here and bring a friend.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.Matthew 23:27-28