Outside-of-the-Box

This was the third week of my church’s Bible study group, which is going through Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God, a book about Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son.

I appreciated one lady’s outside-of-the-box thoughts.  While Tim Keller says that the younger son became heir to one-third of what was left of the inheritance after he returned and rejoined the family, this one lady argued that the elder son was the sole inheritor, for the father told him that all that he had was his.  The lady also asked if the Parable of the Prodigal Son was based in some manner on the story of Esau and Jacob, for both present a younger son being blessed, an older son being upset at the younger son’s blessing, and the younger son going away from his father for a while.  She also inquired if the parable could concern the Christian church’s outreach to the Gentiles, a concept that wasn’t exactly outside-of-the-box, since early Christian exegesis did apply the parable to that.  But she was nervous that she was making a stretch, so, for her at least, she was positing something outside-of-the-box.

These insights impressed me because part of biblical scholarship is paying close attention to details in the text, as well as making connections, and this lady was doing that.  But nothing was really done with her insights to take them a step further, or to show how they can be edifying.  The exception would be her comments on the Gentiles, for somebody else in the group remarked that the Parable could be instructing the church not to hog up God, but rather to share him with the Gentiles.  But her thoughts on the Jacob/Esau story and the piece of the parable about “all that I have is yours” were not carried further.

And I wonder how they could be.  What would happen were we to read the Parable of the Prodigal Son intertextually with the Jacob/Esau story?  What light would each shed on the other?  Perhaps one point could be how the Jacob/Esau story shows that God favors the youngest, even when the youngest is a jerk, but that the Parable of the Prodigal Son highlights how God loves the elder son, too.

As far as “All that I have is yours” goes, there may be a lesson that the Prodigal Son jeopardized his inheritance, for sin has harsh consequences, even if one receives the love of the father.  Or maybe we should not take “All that I have is yours” to mean that the elder son got all of the inheritance.  Perhaps it had nothing to do with inheritance and just means that the father was sharing his property with his elder son who was with him.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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