Luke 15 and sons

There was a man who had two sons.

One thing to be clear about is that when Jesus said this, his audience knew — and heard — immediate echos of stories of men with two sons. Abraham had two sons. Issac had two sons. This was a familiar way to start a story. Adam had two sons and one killed the other…. we’re all descended, so to speak, from the third son, Seth, who doesn’t get any credit. From sons murdering each other; to sons (Jacob and Esau) who managed not to murder each other despite perfect valid reasons for anger. Now we have Jesus starting a story with two sons.

So again, the parable doesn’t start out “shocking” any listener.

The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me”.

Now the shock begins. Maybe!  Maybe the whole only-the-oldest-son-inherited thing is more myth and than reality. This was a long time ago! And every culture has rules that are potentially hurtful and people exert a little common sense and work around them. Maybe fathers gave generous gifts to younger sons. They wouldn’t just let a beloved child suffer just because he was born second — that’s just not how human nature works.

But I don’t think younger sons were supposed to ask for it. Perhaps now the listeners were leaning into the story.

Was the father in the parable crush with grief to have this question? Was he angry? Was he thinking perhaps his son would start a little shop? Is there any chance he was happy? The story only says: “So he divided his property between them.” It gives no indication of emotional state. Is the father over-indulgent — is this a bad father, giving his son the means to make a mess of things, allowing a son to be dishonorable?

(citation: Short Stories by Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine)


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