Part 4 - Father loves older, angry sonPart 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
When the older son refuses to join the banquette -- which is an intentional public insult -- the father, unexpectedly, goes out to him. Dr. Ken Bailey says, “It is almost impossible to convey the shock that must have reverberated through the banquet hall when the father deliberately left his guests, humiliated himself before all, and went out into the courtyard to try to reconcile with his older son.” The preposition used with entreat is "para" which means beside or alongside, creating a picture of the father asking his son to stand alongside him and to look at the world from his perspective. In contrast, when the older son called one of the young boys in the courtyard, the preposition used is "pros" which indicates facing one another, creating a picture of the son summoning the youth to stand facing him as an inferior.
When the father addresses his son in verse 31, he does so with a special word, teknon, a Greek word for son that has a connotation that conveys love and affection. It’s the same word Mary uses to call to Jesus when she finds him in the temple. In contrast, when the older son speaks to the father, the son purposely omits the title father, a sign of disrespect.
Bailey indicates that in response to his son’s complaints, the father does not judge nor criticize nor reject, but offers a defense of joy. Wait! Enough Bailey! The older son represents the Pharisees. Jesus did nothing but criticize the pharisees. He hated the Pharisees. Right? How could the Pharisees be called teknons? For me, there was only one way to resolve these conflicting views: look at every interaction Jesus had with Pharisees. I started with the gospel of Matthew, thinking Matthew was the most likely candidate to show Jesus in a tirade against the Pharisees, unlike the mild mannered doctor in Luke. Well, it didn't take long to find: Matthew chapter 23, Seven Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees. Yup, pretty much what I expected: an all-out attack on the Pharisees.
However, in looking more closely at the text, my thinking started to change. In verse 33, it says, "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?" Answer in verse 34, "Therefore, I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some you will kill and crucify..." In the New Aramaic Bible, verse 34 begins, "Because of this behold..."
In response to Gandhi's speech about injustices of the South African government, a man in the audience stood up and said that he would kill any government official who entered his home, insulting his family. The crowd applauded without ceasing. Gandhi broke-in, "I too am willing to die for this cause -- but I am not willing to kill for this cause." He continued, "Through our pain and bruises, they will come to see their error."
Jesus knows the heart of people. Sometimes it takes something so extreme to break through. As it relates to this parable, it seems to me that the father didn't need to die for the younger son. The younger came to recognize and accept his father's love when the father ran to him. But the older remained entrenched in his anger. When Jesus told this parable, he was on his way to Jerusalem where he would be crucified in large part because of the Pharisees. And Jesus' response? Luke 23:34, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
Only Jesus' death could bring about reconciliation.