2 Corinthians 5.16–21
Luke 15.1–3, 11b–32
We heard one of the best-known of Jesus’ parables today, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
At least that’s its usual name in the English-speaking world. In Germany, it has a different name; it’s the ‘Parable of the Lost Son’. (‘Prodigal’ means ‘spendthrift’, not ‘lost’.)
So is it about a spendthrift son, or a lost son? And what about the older brother, who is lost in his own way? Is it the Parable of the Two Lost Sons? Or the Parable of the Elder Brother?
Is it about the sons at all? Is it really about the father? Some have called it the Parable of the Forgiving Father; that’s a really good name, because where would we be if the father didn’t forgive his son?
There are other names, like the Parable of the Waiting Father (Helmut Thielicke) or the Parable of the Father’s Love (Joachim Jeremias). These names highlight different aspects of the parable, don’t they? The father waits daily for his son’s return; the father’s love is the thread that runs through the whole parable.
The name we give to the parable influences what we see when we look at the parable. Let me share my favourite name for this parable: the Parable of the Powerless Almighty Father (Eduard Schweizer).
We know about the Parable of the Prodigal Son. So let’s talk about the Parable of the Powerless Almighty Father—you may be less familiar with this version. Hearing the parable this way raises questions for us: Is the Father almighty? Is the Father powerless?
The Parable of the Powerless Almighty Father starts
There was a man who had two sons.
A tension has already been set up. Two sons means conflict. It’s been that way from the beginning. Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau are only the merest tip of the iceberg.
The Father is approached by the younger son, who basically tells his dad he’d rather his dad was dead. He wants his inheritance. Now. What can the Father do?
How about say No? An almighty Father has the authority to refuse to give the son anything, while he’s still alive. And who would blame him? No one—the son’s behaviour is unforgivable.
But the Father says Yes, and gives the son his inheritance. He is powerless to stop his son.
Once the son has gone, the Father looks out for . He stands at the door, he walks down the road, he waits by the gate, he scans the horizon for any sign of his son’s return. Day after day, there is nothing, but still he persists. He is powerless to make the son come back.
Eventually, the son does return. He has been prodigal, he has squandered his inheritance. He has lost his fair-weather friends, and he has descended so far down the social scale that he has fed pigs, which of course made him unclean. The son returns home with a scheme to save his hide. He can’t occupy the place of a son any more, but perhaps his Father will let him become a servant. Continue reading