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Contexts and Comparisons Chapter 2 - Sacred Texts 

PASSAGE FOR STUDY

The Parables of Jesus

An important literary device found in the gospels is the parable. This short story, which contains details familiar to the hearers, illustrates one particular point or lesson. Perhaps the best known and most moving of the gospel parables is that of the prodigal son. The story begins with Luke 15:11, printed below from the Revised Standard Version (1971).

Parable of The Prodigal Son

And he said, "There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."'

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this son of mine was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry.

"Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.' But he was angry, and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, 'Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!' And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"

Questions for Discussion

  1. 1. How does the behavior of the departed son highlight the forgiving nature of the father?
  2. Do you think the father treated the faithful son fairly?
  3. What universal application does this story have beyond the immediate characters within the narrative? How does the piece function as a parable?
  4. How might Jesus have used this parable to give his audience reassurance?

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