The Parable of the Loving Father


Sermon Audio February 6, 1011

Scripture Reading:  Luke 15:11-32


The Old Grandfather and His Grandson

by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Once upon a time there was a very, very old man. His eyes had grown dim, his ears deaf, and his knees shook. When he sat at the table, he could scarcely hold a spoon. He spilled soup on the tablecloth, and, beside that, some of his soup would run back out of his mouth.

His son and his son’s wife were disgusted with this, so finally they made the old grandfather sit in the corner behind the stove, where they gave him his food in an earthenware bowl, and not enough at that. He sat there looking sadly at the table, and his eyes grew moist. One day his shaking hands could not hold the bowl, and it fell to the ground and broke. The young woman scolded, but he said not a word. He only sobbed. Then for a few hellers they bought him a wooden bowl and made him eat from it.

Once when they were all sitting there, the little grandson of four years pushed some pieces of wood together on the floor.

“What are you making?” asked his father.

“Oh, I’m making a little trough for you and mother to eat from when I’m big.”

The man and the woman looked at one another and then began to cry. They immediately brought the old grandfather to the table, and always let him eat there from then on.  And if he spilled a little, they did not say a thing.

Cultural Setting

Honor-Shame Culture

Example modern honor killing:  Faleh Almaleki, an Iraqi immigrant charged with killing his daughter in a suburban Phoenix parking lot, acknowledged under questioning by police that he intentionally ran her over because she had become too westernized. Source Here

Shame and honor are positions in society, just as being right (and justified) is a position in our western culture.

It is better for a man that he should cast himself into a fiery furnace rather than that he should put his fellow to shame in public. Talmud Berakoth 43b

The Key to the Parable

“1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable:” Luke 15:1-3

The Audience

Sinner=In the vocabulary of first century Judaism a sinner is simply a person who is apathetic to the law and disinterested in its application to daily life.

Pharisee=The name Pharisee in its Hebrew form means separatists, or the separated ones. They were typically self-righteous and legalistic choosing their own good works not God’s) to make themselves appear superior.

Act 1  The Young Son

Asks for his share of the inheritance – wishes his father dead

Brings shame to his father – privately

Ends up doing everything wrong as Jew in a Gentile world…wishing he was a pig (nothing more shameful than that for a Jew)

[Jesus brings his audience into the story, this is what the Pharisees want to hear…participation theater]

The father does something unexpected for that culture…he extends his love to a son that was figuratively dead to him.

Relationship restored.  The act ends with a party

Act 2 The Oldest Son

The oldest son refuses to go into the party

Brings shame to the father – publicly

Claims to have never disobeyed his father (broken the law) but has shattered the relationship with the source of the law (his father)

As the father is making a great gift the older son is accusing his father of failing to love him

Jesus leaves Act 2 unfinished.  The plot of Act 1 is resolved in the restoration of the younger son, the fate of the older son is left unresolved.

Kenneth Bailey in Finding the Lost Cultural Keys to Luke 15 provides a [fictional] final verse to the parable

And the older son embraced his father

And entered the house

And was reconciled to his brother

And to his father

And the father celebrated together with his two sons

Jesus is trying to evoke a response from the original audience

We (the Pharisees) are the older son, and we too must repent and accept the love offered to us in/through God’s unique representative – Jesus.  Only then can we accept our brother – Kenneth Bailey


1.  Sin.  The parable exhibits sin of the law-breaker and the law-keeper, both can break their relationship with the father through selfishness and self-righteousness.

2.  Freedom. God grants freedom to reject his love.  We can choose our own way even if it causes infinite pain to the loving heart of God

3.  Repentance.  When we come to our senses all we have to do is come back to the father

4.  Grace:  A freely offered love that seeks and suffers in order to save

5.  Joy

About the author

Greg Chaney


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  • Can’t help but see so many parallels in the honor-shame system that continue in the cultures of Japan and more so in the Korean realm where the patriarch is the glue that binds the family, the sons have ranking order and relatives passed are revered and prayed to in times of duress.
    Our guilt driven culture misses these concepts on many fronts.
    Thanks for a great lesson, new light shined on an old lesson.

  • Excellent! I especially appreciated the cultural background. I think we are far too often guilty of takIng verses in the Bible out of context.

By Greg Chaney

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