Jesus is the Prodigal Son: καταπέτασμα’s Interpretation

There are many ways of reading the story of the Wayward Son (Luke 15:11-32). In the context of the other two parables Jesus offers, it is fundamentally a story about the joyous response to one who repents and turns to God: “[T]here is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10; cf. v. 7). The father in the story of the Wayward Son is just as “prodigal” as the wayward son and it symbolizes the joy of which v. 10 speaks. But this isn’t the only way to understand the narrative. 

In a recent post entitled “Inverted Sonship: Jesus as Prodigal Son,” καταπέτασμα offers an interesting take on the parable. He posits that Jesus, on a certain level, functions as the prodigal against which the Jewish religious figures had railed in texts like Luke 7:34. Jesus is seemingly gluttonous, cavorting with sinners, while the Pharisees stick close to the Torah and therefore to God, the prodigal’s father. But they miss the message in their response to the prodigal’s return. The Pharisees didn’t see that in Jesus’ ministry that now was the time for celebration. As God’s son, his messiah, the messianic banquet was set to arrive soon. In the words of καταπέτασμα, “It is God who throws Jesus’ parties, not sinners.”

I’d be very interested in seeing this interpretation of the parable fleshed out more, especially in light of Lukan themes. This parable is unique to Luke, not part of the double-tradition. Moreover, it is presented as a triad of parables about the repentance and the finding of “lost” things. How does the idea that Jesus is the son in the story fit in with these other parables? 

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

2 thoughts on “Jesus is the Prodigal Son: καταπέτασμα’s Interpretation

  1. Thanks so much for sharing!

    My main point was that the parable of the prodigal son reflects two opposing interpretations of Jesus’ gluttonous feasting: the one negative represented by the first half of the story, and the other positive represented by the latter half. Is Jesus more like a disobedient son who squanders wealth for the sake of pleasure-parties—as the Pharisees thought? Or is he more like a man who gratuitously celebrates the repentance of his brothers in accord with his father’s will?

    It’s a bit like the Beelzebub controversy. Everyone acknowledged that Jesus cast out demons (or ate and drank to excess), but not everyone agreed as to what those behaviors meant in terms of their morality. Were Jesus and his friends sinners, as their gluttony and drunkenness suggested? Or was something else going on? Were tax collectors and sinners actually partying because their lives as sinners were over for good?

    I think there’s also a sense in which the younger son’s sin and lostness represents part of Jesus’ own moral journey as a once disobedient Israelite son of God/Abraham. Not that Jesus wasn’t a dutiful and sober son of Joseph, just that he felt himself, like so many other Jews who came to John in repentance, estranged from the heavenly father. I think it is likely that Jesus viewed his own baptism and confession of sin under the guidance of John as a turning point. It was at that moment that Jesus believed he returned to his heavenly father—and began leading others back too.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think Alex’s take is great and I agree with it except I tend to think of the prodigal more as a representation of the Israelites who are like what Alex describes Jesus as – essentially estranged from God, living hard lives medicated by dissolution. Jesus’ activity is finding these lost things, bringing them back to God, and this causes consternation and disapproval from the “faithful” son who are the observant, religious Jews.

    I’m less sure that Jesus is talking about himself, but it’s a challenging reading and I can’t think of any reason why Jesus -couldn’t- be talking about himself.

    Liked by 1 person

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