Dr. Kenneth Bailey on The Prodigal Son Parable

He runs to us; He restores us — all with a Joyful Heart!

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Examples 1 — Jesus Demonstration

Father Son ReunionWhen Jesus told the prodigal son parable he was on his way to Jerusalem where he will be crucified. Now Jesus is in Jerusalem, where he demonstrates unexpected, costly love.

A lady caught in the act of adultery is taken to Jesus to test him, (John 8: 1 - 11). The Pharisees look to discredit Jesus and stone the lady. Further they have the law on their side—given to Moses by God—which commands that adulterers’ must be stoned to death.

So how does Jesus love the “good” and the “bad?” If he sides with the lady, he will invalidate Moses and the law. If, on the contrary, he sides with the Pharisees, his message of grace will be invalidated.

Jesus loves the Pharisees by not saying that they are wrong but by asking them to examine themselves before condemning the lady. This act of kindness not only has the potential to save the lady but also the Pharisees themselves. Jesus wants to awaken in these powerful men a sense of guilt so that they can be receptive to grace.

Jesus demonstrates unexpected, costly love to the lady as well. Unlike the powerful Pharisees, this lady is crushed by the judgment of those around her as well as by herself. She is silent because she is guilty. Jesus did not need to awaken guilt in her. She condemns herself. The law is clear. Incredibly though, Jesus visibly shifts the anger of the crowd from the lady to himself. He restores her and sets her on a new path.

As with number of Jesus' parables, the ending is deliberately missing. How will the ending be written for each Pharisees? For the lady? For you? Even an all powerful God can't force someone to love. What God did, however, is demonstrate with the most costly love how he loves us. Without this costly demostration of unexpected love, we would not see this love. We are blinded by our focus on measuring our “goodness” and “badness” within are selves. We think that our "goodness" will free us. Rather, abiding in Jesus is what frees us.

Example 2