Monday, February 04, 2013

The Prodigal Son

I'm taking an Institute class on parables this semester, and last week, we discussed The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).  This particular parable has often frustrated me -- mostly in regard to the elder son.  That is, regular church-goin' folk typically identify with the elder son, and I think, in an effort to analyze him, people tend to find too much fault.  Yes, he did not understand why his brother, who was so careless with his inheritance, received such a homecoming, and yes, he was angry.  But the bottom line is that he was a righteous son and did all that his father asked of him.  The result?  Instead of scolding him and chastising him for a natural reaction and honest misunderstanding, his father took an opportunity to express his love, saying, "Son, though art ever with me, and all that I have is thine."  This reaction leads me to believe that the elder son is not lost -- far from it; he is promised the greatest of blessings.

And yet.  In my Institute class and elsewhere, I find that many people say things like, "Oh, it wasn't just the prodigal son who was lost and then found; the elder son was lost, too -- lost to a higher law."  But he wasn't lost!  He wasn't lost!  And I think it's problematic to think this, for two reasons:
  1. It might seem that people who are so obedient are also not empathetic or generous or that they are somehow in a worse spot, for one honest misunderstanding.
  2. It very nearly ignores all of the righteous behavior that was exhibited before the misunderstanding.
I guess what I'm saying is . . .  I think contemporary interpretation of this parable -- specifically from an LDS perspective -- is too harsh on the part of the elder son.  Here, listen to what President Kimball had to say about it in The Miracle of Forgiveness (chapter 20):*
When I was a child in Sunday School my teacher impressed upon me the contemptibility of the older son in his anger and complaining, while she immortalized the adulterous prodigal who was presumed to have expressed repentance. But let no reader compare grumbling and peevishness with the degrading sins of immorality and consorting with harlots in riotous living. John mentioned, "There is a sin unto death," and the younger son's transgressions might approach that terrifying condition if he did not repent and turn from his evil course. Elder Talmage comments as follows upon the sins of the two brothers:

"We are not justified in extolling the virtue of repentance on the part of the prodigal above the faithful, plodding service of his brother, who had remained at home, true to the duties required of him. The devoted son was the heir; the father did not disparage his worth, nor deny his desserts. His displeasure over the rejoicing incident to the return of his wayward brother was an exhibition of illiberality and narrowness; but of the two brothers the elder was the more faithful, whatever his minor defects may have been."

[...] Not a word appears in condonation or excuse for the prodigal's sin upon that the Father could not look with the least degree of allowance; but over that sinner's repentance and contrition of soul, God and the household of heaven rejoiced.  [...] There is no justification for the inference that a repentant sinner is to be given precedence over a righteous soul who has resisted sin; were such the way of God, then Christ, the one sinless Man, would be surpassed in the Father's esteem by regenerate offenders. Unqualifiedly offensive as is sin, the sinner is yet precious in the Father's eyes, because of the possibility of his repentance and return to righteousness. The loss of a soul is a very real and a very great loss to God. He is pained and grieved thereby, for it is his will that not one should perish.

That pretty much sums up my thoughts on the matter . . .  What do you think, readers?

*Thanks, Ed, for finding this excerpt for me!  It was so helpful and enlightening!

Thing I'm thankful for: surprise Sunday visits


Blogger mlh said...

Your blog, via Jon, inspired my blog.

12:51 PM  

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