Feast upon the Word Blog

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NT #18: All that I have is thine

Posted by Matthew on May 13, 2007

In Sunday School today we had a great lesson on the parable of the prodigal son. Our teacher did a great job of talking about what I think is the most important part of this parable–the father is a role model, the elder son needs to grow up.

One thing our lesson didn’t touch on much is this phrase in Luke 15:31: “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” What should we make of this?

To begin with let me offer my interpretation of this phrase within the parable: The reason for including this is to further emphasize the hard heart of the elder brother. In this parable everything his father has is his–and yet he is jealous of a fatted calf.

Is part of the point also that the younger son will not get an inheritance? The elder son is jealous of someone who won’t get an inheritance… Within the context of the parable that makes sense.

But the question bothering me is what to make of this detail when we take this parable as an answer to the murmurings of the pharisees in verse 2 “This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.” If we apply this story to their murmuring I take it that the father in the story plays the role of God/Jesus. The elder son plays the role of the pharisees. The younger son plays the role of the sinners Jesus eats with. Does the phrase “all that I have is thine” apply here? Would God say to the pharisees all that I have is thine? And if so, is the converse true–the sinners will not be getting an inheritance?

As I noted above, I believe that first and foremost this parable is about not being jealous of a repentant sinner (instead we should rejoice for them). But if we read much into this phrase “all that I have is thine” and particularly if we read it as implying that the younger son will not get an inheritance–it leads us down the road of thinking that the parable is also making a point of difference between big sins (the younger brother’s) vs little sins (the elder brother’s)? Is that one of the points?

So in my unimaginitive current state I am thinking of two ways of interpreting this phrase “all that I have is thine.” The first interpretation applies this phrase (and its converse) in a straightforward way to Godly inheritance. The second interpretation says that the converse (i.e. the younger son will not have any inheritance) is not applicable to Godly inheritance.

1) The younger son can NEVER regain his inheritance. This is just like sinners who commit big sins on this earth. They can never receive the same thing those who don’t.

2) Every allegory breaks down at some point. It does so here. In the story the younger son would not receive any of the inheritance (he had already spent it) but everything God has is different than everything the father in the allegory has. All of us can receive everything God has, but worldly wealth must be divided. So, though the younger son could receive no more inheritance in the story without robbing the elder son, in reality we all can receive every thing that God has. The point about not being jealous is applicable (should anyone who can receive all that God has be jealous of anyone?) but the idea that the second son’s inheritance is gone is not.

I assume we all reject 1. Do we accept 2? Or is there some middle ground between the two options I presented?

Or is there another interpretation which sidesteps the whole issue?

59 Responses to “NT #18: All that I have is thine”

  1. Matthew said

    Also, you may be interested in looking at the General Conference Scripture Citation index. It provides several links for Luke 15:31. (Unfortunately I am not aware of anyway to link directly to a certain place on that website. Does anyone know? E.g. I’d like to link to this so it would open right up to Luke 15:31.)

    It is interesting to see the interpretations there. I would say that they fall somewhere between my 1 and 2 though I could not coherently explain how they fall short of embracing 2 without accepting 1 as an explanation of this verse in its context. Of course, explaining this verse in its context may not have been their goal. If it isn’t then not doing it wouldn’t even be a failing. But anyway, that is my goal!

    Also, note that all of the conference addresses there are dated–though I’m never sure how much to make of that issue.

  2. Robert C. said

    Matthew, I don’t have a lot to add right now, but I think you’ve articulated the issues well here, and I agree with your leanings toward (2) for the reasons you’ve described. I will say that I think it’s significant that we’re not told anything about the younger son’s status in relation to inheritance. Also it could be that the elder son is receiving his inheritance simply b/c he is the elder son, not b/c he has “earned it” by being more righteous, and so this parable might be more about (or: also about) the Jews and Gentiles.

    Regarding the General Conference scripture citations, here is a link to the Luke 15 citations which I created by shift-clicking “Luke 15”—this doesn’t work for individual verses though.

  3. maria alexandra said

    That cite “thou art ever with me and all that I have is thine” shows us that,some of us like the elder son, have lost the way and can’t understard the magnificent love of the father for His lost son.
    Any way all that Father has is our Will we accep it, being faithful and loyal to our Havenly Father’s laws?

  4. BrianJ said

    Matthew: There was this quote from Pres Faust in 2003:

    “We remember that the prodigal son wasted his inheritance, and when it was all gone he came back to his father’s house. There he was welcomed back into the family, but his inheritance was spent. 11 [11. See Luke 15:11–32.] Mercy will not rob justice, and the sealing power of faithful parents will only claim wayward children upon the condition of their repentance and Christ’s Atonement. Repentant wayward children will enjoy salvation and all the blessings that go with it, but exaltation is much more. It must be fully earned. The question as to who will be exalted must be left to the Lord in His mercy.”

    I’m not sure what Pres Faust means by “[exaltation] must be fully earned,” since it is given through grace (and therefore, by definition, is not earned). Nevertheless, I think his point may articulate how the other quotes “fall short of embracing 2 without accepting 1 as an explanation.” Pres Faust seems to embrace #1, as do the other quotes though they don’t seem so final. For example:

    “This squanderer…spent his life in riotous living. His inheritance was expendable, and he spent it. He was never to enjoy it again as it was irretrievably gone. No quantity of tears or regrets or remorse could bring it back. Even though his father forgave him and dined him and clothed him and kissed him, he could not give back to the profligate son that which had been dissipated. But the other brother who had been faithful, loyal, righteous, constant, retained his inheritance, and the father reassured him: “All that I have is thine” ( Luke 15:31).
    When one realizes the vastness, the richness, the glory of that “all” which the Lord promises to bestow upon his faithful, it is worth all it costs in patience, faith, sacrifice, sweat and tears.” (Spencer Kimball, 1952, emphasis added)

    The difference I see is that Faust seems to be suggesting that the prodigal’s folly would necessarily have eternal consequences (supporting #1), but Kimball et al leave the question open as to whether we are talking about forgiveness while still alive versus judgment day repentance+forgiveness. I think that ambiguity is what makes it seem like they are not embracing #1, when in fact I think they are embracing it.
    So here’s an option 3 to consider, that I think brings 1&2 into agreement (or replaces them; either way), but I’m not sure that it agrees with other “doctrine”:
    3) A key point is that both sons left the home: one to squander his inheritance and the other to work in the fields. Both sons return at the same time (of course, we have to suspend reality a bit to recognize that the older son was not literally laboring for months in the field without going indoors). The father’s house is heaven; both sons have gone down to earth. The prodigal sins, experiences the bitterness of that kind of life, and desires to again be in his father’s care. The reason he can have no inheritance is that he spent it and, in the timing of the story, his life on earth is over—in his day of reckoning, he is greeted as one loved and thought completely lost, but now he has returned and receives some measure of glory. The older son also returns home (i.e. his labor is done/life is over), but stops short of entering the house/his father’s presence. He is out in the courtyard, maybe, a sort of spirit world. His father eventually comes to intreat him/judge him. He labored faithfully all his life, and now all that his father has is his (he is exalted), if he can put aside his pride (that last point has serious implications on exaltation: the older son was clearly not perfect, yet was still exalted).
    In short, #3 brings timing into play, which makes all the difference. Because otherwise, how many among us are more like the prodigal than the faithful? The parable must represent events that happen very near the end of life or after death, else the prodigal’s return sparks a celebration that will be very short-lived: in the morning he will realize that upon his father’s death he has no future whatsoever, except as an employee/slave/dependent of his brother.

  5. CEF said

    I am totally fascinated with our struggle to put some kind of meaning to this parable that makes sense to us as LDS. It cannot mean what it seems to mean. If it does, then it would seem to be less than fair, that someone can live a life of sin and still get the same reward in heaven that those who have lead a less sinful life will get, “if they repent.” But when we put this parable next to the one about the laborers in the field, then just maybe, it does mean that very thing. Actually, that sounds like “good news” to me.

    I just had a discussion about this on LDS-Phil and I swore that I would never get into another discussion about such things again. I guess this is called brain damage, but I have learned not to expect different results. :)

  6. Cherylem said

    CEF #5,
    I remember thinking along these same lines when I have heard this lesson taught in GD – that it is wrong to see this story through LDS lens. Now that it is my turn once again, I am thinking about how to teach it myself.

  7. Jim F. said

    Isn’t the answer relatively easy, with or without reference to LDS doctrine? Verse 12 tells us that the father divided his estate between both sons, so everything that he owns has already been given to the two.

  8. Robert C. said

    But Jim, how do you reconcile that with the “all that I have is thine” in verse 31? I thought that “living” in verse 12 was referring to something more like the father’s savings or maybe extra income or something, but that the inheritance would go to the older son.

    I actually prefer to think that the prodigal son will get an equal inheritance, but the text seems to me (contra CEF’s #5…) to point to a reading where the older son inherits everything the father has and the prodigal son gets only what has already been given in verse 12.

  9. CEF said

    If only it was that easy. I do not think we would have a discussion on this if it were that easy. Although, I do not think other Christians have such issues with this parable. So it seems to me, that it is only the LDS that struggle to understand it. Why?

    IMHO, it is because we place more emphasis on our works, and therefore tend to identify with the older son, and see the younger son as someone that is not us. Come to think of it, that is probably exactly what the Pharisees did.

    And was not the point of the three parables Christ was trying to teach, that repentant sinners can go to heaven just the same as those that are righteous can. Before someone can say that Pharisees were not righteous, were they no the ones that kept the Law better than anyone else? Christ was not impressed with them, but they did keep the Law.

    It seems the big hangup I had with the last discussion was was over the word prodigal. Someone was trying to place murders within the definition of that word. To me, murders are not prodigals and murders are not part of the story. I am not sure where murders fit in, but that is not part of this thread.

  10. Marion has a rich discussion of this parable in God Without Being. It is too much to summarize. It is on pages 95-102.

  11. Jim F. said

    Robert C, the UBS translators handbook says that “all I have is yours” means that, since the younger brother’s share had already been spent, the only thing left is what the father has given to the older son: “everything left of what I have belongs to you.” Word Biblical Commentary says of verse 31, “the terms of division made in v 12 are now confirmed.”

    Though there is discussion of whether it was possible to distribute an inheritance prior to a person’s death, there seems to be universal agreement among the commentators and translators I consulted that “goods” and “living” in verse 12 both refer to the inheritance that the younger son stood to expect.

    I agree with Cherylem. We run into trouble because we look for too much in the parable. It is a story about eating with sinners and a brother who refuses to do so. I don’t think it is a story about who gets exaltation and who doesn’t or any of many other things that we Mormons tend to read into it.

  12. nhilton said

    Perhaps we have trouble with this story because of our perception of the next life: tangible, physical, real. We expect a REAL inheritance. We, therefore, think of the goods being bequeathed as finite and tangible subject to division and consumption. We’re greedy readers who are too quick to identify with the older son in the sense that we think we’re worthy of our inheritance and have somehow elevated ourselves in comparison to our neighbor.

    What happens when we identify with the father or the younger son? What about the other unmentioned brothers, mother & sisters waiting in the wings? Would the father not have enough for everyone’s well-being?

    I think the message of the story is in the older son’s enmity. The prodigal’s sins are so small compared to the sin evidenced by the older brother. I think this is the more grevious sin & the one most of us are actually guilty of–enmity toward our Father & neighbor.

  13. Robert C. said

    Jim #11, thanks for this summary of scholarly commentary.

    I wonder about this issue of “looking for too much” in scripture. For example, I thought the Welch article on the more symbolic interpretation of the Good Samaritan was quite interesting and insightful, but is that kind of reading looking for too much? I vacillate drastically in answering this question….

  14. Cherylem said

    I have been looking at some commentaries regarding this parable, especially my favorite: POET & PEASANT and THROUGH PEASANT EYES: a literary-cultural approach to the parables in Luke, by Kenneth E. Bailey.

    Bailey has a very long chapter on the Prodigal son parable. Briefly he states, and Brown (INTRODUCTION TO THE NEW TESTAMENT) and Rice LUKE: THE SON OF MAN agree, that the older son represents the Pharisees (as already mentioned in several posts), and Jesus meant for the Pharisees to see themselves in him. Also, both sons insult the father terribly. By asking for his inheritance while his father is still living, the younger son in effect is stating that he wants his father dead, that his father is dead to him. Later, the older son argues with his father at a celebratory banquet – also unheard of. Both sons are in a state of alienation from their father, and the father seeks to reconcile them.

    The father’s act of love (kissing the son, welcoming him home) is an act of unequaled grace, given the circumstances.

    I’ll do more with this later, but just wanted to throw these ideas out quickly.

  15. Matthew said

    CEF #5, I’m not getting your point here:

    It cannot mean what it seems to mean. If it does, then it would seem to be less than fair, that someone can live a life of sin and still get the same reward in heaven that those who have lead a less sinful life will get, “if they repent.”

    I don’t see any evidence in this parable that it implies that those who lead a more sinful life will get the same reward as those who lead a less sinful life. If we think this is a parable about the implications of sin on reward then it would seem to lead us down the path that I believe you are arguing against. Note: Don’t get me wrong. I actually think it is TRUE that someone who leads a more sinful life but repents will receive the same reward that someone who leads a less sinful life and repents will receive.

    Dad (7, 11), I agree that your interpretation is a good one, but I don’t feel like it ends the discussion. I think there are other hints that there is something more to this story than simply a story about “eating with sinners and a brother who refuses to do so.” For example, why does the father say “thou art ever with me”? The father seems to be thanking the elder son for all the good he does even as he criticizes him for his lack of charity toward his younger brother. Is this also applicable to the pharisees? Is this also a way of recognizing all the good in what the pharisees did?

    Also, CEF and Dad, I think it is fine to put ourselves in the shoes of other Christians and say that if all we have to look at is this story then the only thing we see in it is [fill in the blank]. But though we don’t accept President Faust’s quote (from BrianJ #4) as scripture, I imagine it is worth our time to try to make sense of it.

  16. cherylem said

    Regarding the “all that I have is thine,” Bailey says (p. 202):

    Older son: “you never gave me a kid.”

    Father: “All that I have is thine.”

    Older son: “yes, but I don’t have the right of disposition. I own everything but I still can’t slaughter a goat and have a feast with my friends.”

    Father: “Oh, I see, you also want me gone.”

    the older son has insulted the father by:
    deciding not to enter the house (where he would have a semi-official responsibility); the father goes out to speak to him.
    he chooses to humiliate his father publicly by quarreling with him while guests are present – this is a profoundly deep insult
    not using a title (titles are used in direct speech to this point)
    the older son says: I have slaved for you (not been a son for you)
    (the break between the older son and his father is nearly as radical as the original break between younger son and his father)
    The father should be furious at the older son, instead he entreats him (shows grace to the older son)

    The father asks the older son to:
    show joy for his younger brother
    feel assured that his rights have not been diminished by the younger son’s return
    correct the older son’s understanding: “I have served all these years” by saying “you are the heir.”

    Thus the father’s speech to the older son is a cry from the heart for an understanding of grace.

    bailey continues:
    “Jesus is discussing two different types of men. One is lawless without the law, and the other lawless within the law. Both rebel. Both break the father’s heart. Both end up in a far country, one physically, the other spiritually. The same unexpected love is demonstrated in humiliation to each. For both this love is crucial if servants are to become sons.”

    The father longs for his sons to reconcile. In the parable, the older son refuses. But the listening Pharisee is asked to give a different answer – to participate in the reconciliation.

    These are some of Bailey’s comments . . .

  17. Cherylem said

    Interestingly, my commentaries do not name this the parable of the prodigal son. Rather it is named: the parable of the two sons.

    One more take on this story comes from another source I’ve cited elsewhere; Rabbi Mark Kinzer’s POST-MISSIONARY MESSIANIC JUDAISM.

    He writes:
    “Perhaps the best expression of Luke’s attitude toward the wider Jewish community is found in the parable of the two sons (Luke 15:11-32). The opening verse of the chapter sets this parable in the context of the criticisms offered of Yeshua by the Pharisees and scribes for his eating with “sinners.” Luke’s immediate readers would undoubtedly see the prodigal son as representing the early Yeshua movement as a whole. The context makes the connection between the older son and the Pharisees and scribes obvious. For Luke’s readers, the Pharisees and scribes would themselves represent the official leadership of the Jewish community. Operating with this interpretative framework, three elements of the second part of the parable are especially noteworthy. First, the father in the parable leaves the banquet hall and goes to the older son, who sullenly refuses to join the celebration. The father does not wait for the older son but actively seeks him out. Second, the father does not rebuke or threaten his son. Instead, he reassures and appeals to him:

    “Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:31-32)

    Third, the parable ends with the father appealing to the older son. It does not tell us whether the son eventually accompanies his father into the banquet hall or remains outside on his own. Like Luke-Acts itself, the parable is unfinished. It will be finished only when the “older brother” hears the parable, realizes that it is addressed to him, and makes the appropriate response. In the meantime, through the figure of the parable’s father, Luke’s Yeshua conveys his vision of how God relates to the Jewish community and its leaders. He would presumably expect Yeshua-believers – especially those who are Jewish themselves – to behave likewise. (p. 121-122)

    Many pages later, in a footnote, Kinzer quotes Mason “Chief Priests, Sadducees, Pharisees and Sanhedrin in Acts,” in THE BOOK OF ACTS IN ITS FIRST CENTURY SETTING, ed. Bruce W. Winter, 1995 (chapters and verses from Luke):
    “”Jesus’ most compassionate statement to the Pharisees comes when they inquire of him, still the respected teacher, ‘when the kingdom of God comes’ (17:20). In responding that ‘the kingdom of God is within you’ (17:22), Jesus is declaring that the Pharisees have the kingdom in themselves, as the ‘older brother’ [Luke 15:25-32] wih heaven’s resources at their disposal, as the righteous and healthy of society; but we have seen time and again, they squander their potential.” Mason 142.

    This is interesting to me. How fascinating parables are. Faust and Kimball (quoted in posts above) relate the parable to the LDS worldview. Bailey works the parable as a scholar and a Christian. Kinzer sees the parable in relation to the Jewish people, even today . . .

  18. Cherylem said

    And last comment (for awhile) . . . Jim F’s Sunday School lesson #18 opens the door for a very lively discussion and deeper understanding regarding this entire chapter of Luke.

  19. Matthew said

    Cherylem, thanks for the additional interpretations. I think they are helpful. I especially like Kizner’s #17.

    Bailey, #16, seems related to our discussion. One thing I don’t understand on Bailey’s interpretation is that in his view the son cannot throw a party with a kid until his Father is dead. Why not? Is there some historical background that explains why this is true?

  20. Matthew said

    Cherylem #18, Agree.

    This question is much less important than so many other questions one could ask about the same chapter. I’m reminded of Robert C’s (#13).

    What does one do when the question that comes to one’s mind every time you read the scripture, the one that seems bothersome or to not make sense doesn’t promise much hope of being important? And yet we are attracted to it.

    Or to put the question another way, addressing CEF #9, suppose it is true that our interest in the question stems from some moral sickness (e.g. a lack of charity, a focus on works, etc.)…If simply identifying this as the cause of the question doesn’t answer it (I don’t think it does), what is left to be done but take up the question?

  21. BrianJ said

    Matthew: I think you raise an interesting question: “The father seems to be thanking the elder son for all the good he does even as he criticizes him for his lack of charity toward his younger brother. Is this also a way of recognizing all the good in what the pharisees did?”

    Also, on the concern about “this question is much less important than so many other questions one could ask…” I don’t think that kind of question/concern is productive. I can’t rate the importance of a question until I’ve asked it—and by asking it I’ve already “let the horse out of the barn.” May as well see where the question goes and then judge it “by its fruits.” Which is, I think, where Robert’s concern (#13) is slightly different: he wonders if he is “looking for too much” in a scripture. I say ask all the questions one has, see where they’re headed, and let the Spirit guide in when to leave something alone.

    Cheryl: thanks for posting the additional commentaries.

  22. CEF said

    Matthew,

    I am not very good at explaining myself, so sorry about that. The parable to me, is not about the implications of sin on reward, but about repentance and grace. Christ is simply trying to show that the sinners he is eating with, are loved as much now, and will be blessed as much as the Pharisees if they repent. And that the Pharisees should be more charitable, because in doing so, they loose nothing.

    And yes, I agree that statements like that of Pres. Faust cannot help but make this much more complicated than I think it should be. What do we do with a statement like that? That is what I am struggling with, because obviously, there are those in the Church that will take it as gospel doctrine. And then people like me, are left trying to fit into a Church and its orthodoxy that I find difficult to accept.

    Cherylem – Thank you for the commentaries. Grace is not something we as LDS see in this parable, but I believe it is mostly about grace. I will add some statements from Philip Yancey”s “What’s So Amazing About Grace?”

    The story of the Prodigal Son,after all, appears in a string of three stories by Jesus — the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son — all of which seem to make the same point. Each underscores the loser’s sense of loss, tells the thrill of rediscovery, and ends with a scene of jubilation. Jesus says in effect, “Do you want to know what it feels like to be God? When one of those two-legged humans pays attention to me, it feels like I just reclaimed my most valuable possession, which I had given up for loss.” To God himself, it feels like the discovery of a lifetime.

    Grace is shockingly personal. As Henri Nouwen points out, “God rejoices. Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted and are now praising him for his goodness. No, God rejoices because “one” of his children who was lost has been found.”

    … Obviously, Jesus did not give us the parables to teach us how to live. He gave them, I believe, to correct our notions about who God is and who God loves.

    This one is a long one, but it is kind of neat. “Ask people what they must do to get to heaven and most will reply, “Be good.” Jesus’ stories contradict that answer. All we must do is cry, help!” God welcomes home anyone who will have him and, in fact, has made the first move already. Most experts – doctors, lawyers, marriage counselors – set a high value on themselves and wait for clients to come to them. Not God. As Soren Kierkegaard put it, “When it is a question of a sinner He does not merely stand still, open his arms and say, “Come hither”; no, He stands there and waits, as the father of the lost son waited, rather, He does not stand and wait, He goes forth to seek, as the shepherd sought the lost sheep, as the woman sought the lost coin. He goes – yet no, He has gone, but infinitely farther than any shepherd or any woman, He went in sooth, the infinitely long way from being God to becoming man, and that way He went in search of sinners.

    “Kierkegaard puts his finger on perhaps the most important aspect of Jesus’ parables. They were not merely pleasant stories to hold listeners’ attention or literary vessels to hold theological truth. They were, in fact, the template of Jesus’ life on earth. He was the shepherd who left the safety of the fold for the dark and dangerous night outside. to his banquets he welcomed tax collectors and reprobates and whores. He came for the sick and not the well, for unrighteous and not the righteous. And to those who betrayed him – especially the disciples, who forsook him at his time of greatest need – he responded like a lovesick father.”

    “Rung by rung, Jesus dismantled the ladder of hierarchy that had marked the approach to God. He invited defectives, sinners, aliens, and Gentiles – the unclean! – to God’s banquet table.

    Had not Isaiah prophesied of a great banquet to which all nations would be invited? Over the centuries, Isaiah’s exalted vision had clouded over so that some groups restricted the invitation list to the Jews who were not physically defective. In direct contrast, Jesus’ version of the great banquet has the host sending messengers into the streets and alleys to invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”

    Jesus’ most memorable story, the Prodigal Son, likewise ends with a banquet scene, featuring as its hero a good-for-nothing who has soiled the family reputation. Jesus’ point: those judged undesirable by everyone else are infinitely desirable to God, and when one of them turns to God, a party breaks out. We’re all oddballs, but God loves us anyhow.”

    The above explains how I feel and believe about the parable of the two sons, I just do not see much of the above in our own understanding of that story. And that saddens me very much.

  23. Robert C. said

    Matthew #20 (and BrianJ #21), I think this point you are making about how we fixate on certain questions is very fascinating and profound. I think this is one of the most important aspects of scripture, how it helps heal us of our sicknesses, if you will. This is very related to why I think Lacan is interesting and relevant for thinking about how and why we read scripture (very roughly, scripture functions like a psychoanalyst that asks questions of us and, through this questioning-and-response process that we can undergo in psychoanalysis and in scripture study, we learn about ourselves, about God, the universe, and everything…).

    CEF #22 [sorry, by the way, for the spam filter delaying your post—I deleted your follow-up attempts to post…], thank you very much for sharing these Yancey quotes, I really like them! Also, I think this crystalizes the tension Matthew is getting at in his post which we might reforumlate as Elder Faust’s reading vs. Yancey’s reading. If it’s any comfort, I think that most participating in this discussion much prefer Yancey’s theological view (at least I know I do), but are simply trying to be true to the text and to understand it better. Also, here are some thoughts in an effort to reconcile the two views (or, better, to interpret Faust’s remarks in a way that doesn’t contradict the view of grace that you describe):

    Faust makes a distinction between salvation and exaltation, but also expressly states that the question of “who will be exalted must be left to the Lord in His mercy.” This may be tying in to the fact that we don’t really know the ending to the story. Does the prodigal son stay at home, or does he repeat his earlier mistake and leave home? This, I think, might be a good way to think about the distinction between salvation and exaltation—that is, if salvation is being saved from our previous sins, exaltation is being saved from our future sins. God has given us our agency and will not prevent us from sinning in the future if we so desire. God also offers us his Spirit and love which, if we accept, will change our hearts and make it possible to live a life that is full of love and virtue, free of sin. But we must accept this love and grace into our life. Accepting this gift is what I take Faust to mean when he talks about “earning” exaltation—I don’t particularly like this wording, but I think that there is indeed a sense that we can say that exaltation is earned because it is commensurate and conditional upon our love and good works, even if God is the author of this goodness.

    A thought anyway….

  24. CEF said

    Robert – Thank you for helping with the posts, I was starting to think I had offended someone/everyone. :)

    I would love nothing more than to see a way to understand Pres. Faust’s talk (as well as other leaders talks) in a more favorable light. It is difficult to find ones self at a comfort level that is less than satisfactory, within ones own church.

    I realize our understanding of different levels of heaven makes some things more complicated. And maybe we are trying to see more in the story than is really there. For instance.

    Wondering what happens to the younger son somewhere down the road, I don’t think, is part of the story. Or how the two brothers work things out, I don’t think, is part of the story either. Ministers I have asked about this said they were taught in the schools they went to, that parables are not something we should try and place more into than is already there. I would agree with that.

    Of course for Mormons, it is hard not to wonder how this story fits with our own unique understanding of things. Perhaps that is why someone I know in the Church could say that the prodigal son was not “fully forgiven.” And the same person said something about BRM saying that it is a story about David in the old testament. I am not sure where that comes from, but, it sure does not seem to be a part of the parable to me. And to be honest, I find to be very troubling.

    I used to be like most other members and wonder if I would ever be good enough to make it to the CK. Since coming to a better understanding of grace, I no longer wonder/worry about such things. My attitude now is, one of someone that has been saved, not someone trying to become so. Why would I not make it to the CK. My faith is in Christ, I try and live a Christ centered life, and I repent when I fall short. I cannot imagine ever turning my back on my Savior. (enduring to the end) What else is there? In the here and now of the parable, what else could the younger son have done? What else could the father have done to show he had forgiven his son? As in fully forgiven.

  25. Jim F. said

    Would it be heretical to say that I think Elder Faust was teaching a lesson on salvation and exaltation and used the parable to do so rather than that he was giving us an explication of the parable itself? I think that happ;ens rather frequently, both in talks by authorities and talks by the rest of us. I don’t think it is pernicious, but it can cause confusion.

  26. Cherylem said

    Matthew #19,
    Bailey thinks that there is an issue of disposition of the father’s wealth – something that can only happen when the father dies, when things are done in correct order. The younger son has demanded disposition before death (thus the idea that he wants his father dead; his father is dead to him while he is in his rebellious state). The older son complains about the same thing in the language about “no party for me.” Bailey writes: “He has owned everything since his brother left. He is irritated that he cannot dispose of it at will and host a banquet for his friends. This much he admits openly. From his perspective, starting with the problem he has posed, the obvious solution is disposition, which will be his right only after the father dies. His younger brother was granted disposition and had all the banquets he wanted. Why cannot the older son have the same privilege? So the story seems to have come full circle.”

    I don’t really do Bailey justice handing out little snippets like this – he spends over 60 pages on this chapter, including all three parables. I am not sure I agree with Bailey in every respect. But hopefully I have given another way of looking at the parable of the two sons.

    Bailey does his study from the viewpoint of the oriental mind, so he is especially interesting to me. Two or three times he quotes Dr. Abraham Sa’id, who wrote Arabic commentary on the book of Luke . One such quote is:

    “The difference between him and his younger brother was that the younger brother was estranged and rebellious while absent from the house, but the older son was estranged and rebellious in his heart while he was in the house. The estrangement and rebellion of the younger son were evident in his surrender to his passions and in his request to leave his father’s house. The estrangement and rebellion of the older son were evident in his anger and his refusal to enter the house.”

    So . . . all for Bailey right now.

    By the way, Joseph Smith wrote of this parable in TPJS (p. 277):
    In reference to the prodigal son, I said i was a subject I had never dwelt upon; that it was understood by many to be one of the intricate subjects of the scriptures; and even the Elders of the Church have preached largely upon it, without having any rule of interpretation. What is the rule of interpretation? Just no interpretation at all. Understand it precisely as it reads. I have a key by which to understand the scriptures. I enquire, what was the question which drew out the answer, or caused Jesus to utter the parable? It is not national; it does not refer to Abraham, Israel or the Gentiles, in a national capacity, as some suppose. To ascertain its meaning, we must dig up the root and ascertain what it was that drew the saying out of Jesus.

    “While Jesus was teaching the people, all the publicans and sinners drew near to hear Him, “and the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying: This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” This is the keyword which unlocks the parable of the prodigal son. It was given to answer the murmurings and questions of the Sadducees and Pharisees, who were querying, finding fault, and saying, “How is it that this man as great as He pretends to be, eats with publicans and sinners?” Jesus was not put to it so, but He could have found something to illustrate His subject, if He had designed it for nation or nations; but He did not. It was for men in an individual capacity; and all straining on this point is a bubble. “This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.”

    Then Joseph Smith talks about finding the one sheep, finding the lost coin. He emphasizes the joy in finding the one.

    (This explanation would seem to be against Kinzer [my #17 above] but I still think Kinzer’s ideas have merit.)

    Last, CEF #24, I agree with much that you write. Still, Pres. Faust’s explanation, read in context of his entire talk from which the quote was drawn, makes some sense. Take a look at the whole thing.

    This has been a good – if brief – study for me so far. Again, I am grateful for the minds that are at work on this blog. Regarding Luke 15, I am coming to understand that almost all aspects of our lives can be illustrated and enlightened by the parables presented here. They are wonderful, actually.

  27. Cherylem said

    #25 Jim,
    Yes. You’ve said this very well.

  28. Jim F. said

    For days, I’ve intended to say something in support of Joe’s reference to Jean-Luc Marion (#10). Even if you don’t want to wade through the deep to get to page 95, it is worth skipping straight to pages 95-102, Marion’s interpretation of the parable.

    Marion’s argument is that the younger son doesn’t just want the use of his father’s property–he already has that–he wants its possession. In other words, he wants to own rather than for it to be a gift. When the younger son returns, we see him finally willing to receive the gift from his father, now that the son owns nothing at all.

    The exchange between the father and the older son reveals that there is no essential difference between the two sons, for the older son also really only wants possession, not to have to receive aa gift from his father. (And the comments that Cherylem has pointed to show the various ways in which the older son has insulted his father, adding other sins to ingratitude and avariciousness.)

    To quote Marion:

    The father does not see the ousia [the Greek word for “property”] as the sons see it. In it the latter read, according to desire, the object of a possession without concession which abandons every trace of a paternal gift. The father sees in it the gift ceaselessly re-given at a new cost (eventually in forgiveness). Or rather, the father does not see the ousia, and indeed the term appears only in the speech of the sons; the father does not allow his gaze to freeze on a transitory term.”

  29. Jim F. said

    Matthew and I had an off-blog conversation about this last night and I finally saw the point he is making: the older son, though the focus of the story, is a mixed character. We see him as both a bad son and, in his father’s remark about him, a good son. So there is a tension in the story, in the older son, and much of the discussion and disagreement that we have about him is a result of that tension. We can’t come down fully in favor of any one reading of the older son because of that tension.

    I think Matthew is right about that, assuming that I’ve characterized what he said correctly.

  30. Robert C. said

    Jim, I haven’t got to Marion yet, but I plan to—thanks for the helpful discussion (though I think I’ll have to reread that Marion quote a few more times before it’ll really make sense to me!). Since I’m quite interested in this area between (covering) exegesis, theology, philosophy and hermeneutics, would you consider Marion to be doing explication or something closer to what Pres. Faust was doing as your comment #25, “teaching a lesson on salvation and exaltation and used the parable to do so rather than . . . giving us an explication of the parable itself” (but instead of “salvation and exaltation,” grace and theology, or whatever)?

  31. CEF said

    Jim – I am more than willing to make allowances for our leaders to be human and therefore fallible. And I am willing to see Pres. Faust’s talk in a more charitable light. The problem, to me, is one of confusion.

    Cherylem – I remember hearing the talk by Pres. Faust when he gave it, and being a little confused at that time. I read it when it came out in the Ensign, and was still confused, and I read it again today, and I am still not sure just where Pres. Faust stands on the issue of wayward children. It would have been a lot less confusing if he had left out the quote of Joseph Smith. That to me, really clouds the issue. Without that quote, I think Pres. Faust was pretty clear that wayward children can be forgiven, but their status in the resurrection is questionable. In other words, we are not sure that the prodigal son was “fully” forgiven. And therefore, wayward/prodigal children today may not make it to the CK. They can receive salvation, but Exultation, according to Elder Faust, must be earned, to me, implying prodigals have not earned it, And only God knows where they will go. Not trying to offend anyone here, but that just does not sound like good news to me.

    We remember that the prodigal son wasted his inheritance, and when it was all gone he came back to his father’s house. There he was welcomed back into the family, but his inheritance was spent. Mercy will not rob justice, and the sealing power of faithful parents will only claim wayward children upon the condition of their repentance and Christ’s Atonement. Repentant wayward children will enjoy salvation and all the blessings that go with it, but exaltation is much more. It must be fully earned. The question as to who will be exalted must be left to the Lord in His mercy.

    If I have missed something, I am more than willing to reexamine this again.

  32. Cherylem said

    CEF #31, no reexamination necessary, in my opinion. I did say Pres. Faust made some sense – the qualifier was deliberate. Nevertheless, I was grasping at what Jim F said so well: Faust was attempting to explicate a particular LDS understanding, not give a scholarly analysis of a scriptural account, IMO. Whether or not he succeeded in explaining the LDS view on the subject of wayward children, sealings, forgiveness, exaltation, and the mirky subject of earning one’s salvation etc., is another matter, as you have pointed out.

  33. Jim F. said

    Robert C, I’m not sure what Marion is doing, though it is quite interesting. In the short part that I summarized, I think he is, in fact, giving an explication of the text.

    However, I am less sure that the rest of his discussion is an explication of the text. I doubt that the New Testament is really about Being / being, though it is about charity. His conclusion (irrelevant to any but those who have a taste for this sort of thing, those who have been deranged by philosophy): “Charity delivers Being/being.” I think that is true, but I don’t think that is what the parable is about.

    CEF: I agree with Cherylem. Elder Faust wasn’t explicating the parable and I don’t know how well he explicated the LDS doctrine he talked about since I don’t think I really understand the difference between salvation and exaltation. (Of course, I know the Sunday School definitions of those terms, but the more I think about those definitions, the less I understand them.) I’m not just confused by Elder Faust’s talk; I’m confused by the teaching he was trying to explain.

  34. Wow, what a rich discussion. I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back to it until now (it took an inability to sleep over a toothache to get me back to it… been busy lately, I guess!).

    There are several issues at work in the discussion here, and I think that because one of them remains relatively unanswered, the others become unanswerable. And I imagine it is worth rooting out that issue and taking it on directly (sometimes I think it must be taken on again and again here, as elsewhere): what constitutes faithfulness to the Brethren?

    I’d like, I suppose, to write up a post on this question so as to deal with it adequately, and I’m convinced that it is a foundational question that, when it is left unanswered, frustrates every attempt we make to answer (or even to approach) other questions…

  35. Robert C. said

    Joe, that sounds like an interesting and timely topic to post on (cf. comments 20ff here regarding Church culture, statements, and practice as it pertains to [feminist concerns and] being faithful to the Brethren…).

  36. CEF said

    Jim – I have a lot of respect for you. Not just for your intellect, but you seem to be a very decent man. Hearing from you that you are also confused by Elder Faust’s talk, gives me hope that maybe I am not as lost in the Church as I sometimes feel that I am. So thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I do not think I could add much, if anything to a discussion that Joe mentioned, but I sure would like to follow along with one.

  37. Matthew said

    I’m still thinking about this parable…and I hope I will be for a long time. But I’m hoping that I can bring some temporary closure to this by getting my thoughts down in writing. Here goes…

    Fwiw, I quite like Elder Faust’s talk because I take it as a response to those who interpret this Joseph Smith quote as a suggestion somehow that temple ordinances transcend free agency. Elder Faust makes it clear that without repentance no one can enjoy the blessings of salvation/exaltation even if they are sealed to their parents. This message often seems lost when we hear someone quote that passage.

    Clearly the main message of this parable is that we (let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the older son) should rejoice for the repentant sinner. If we get caught up in a discussion of some particular phrase or another and loose track of that main message we are missing the whole point.

    So with that in mind though, what should we make of the tension that is introduced by what the father says? Several interpretations above tell us that the older son’s complaint about the calf amount to an expression that he wants to spend his inheritance now, i.e. that the older brother is as bad as the younger brother. But when the father says “though art ever with me” the father is praising the older son for staying with him–something the younger son did not do. To me it seems natural to read what the father says as: you have always been with me (in contrast to the younger son) and you have everything (in contrast to the younger son). Is there a way to make sense of these words without loosing the main message of the parable? Maybe not…but I’m trying.

    To do this I want to address specifically CEF #31. If in addressing this, CEF, it seems like I am making a straw man, forgive me. Since I sympthasize with #31, I’m really addressing myself in addressing #31. So even if it is a srawman for you–it is really what I hear inside my head.

    First off, Elder Faust would reject interpretting his talk as suggesting that the younger son was not fully forgiven. We might think what he says implies that; however, I believe that in Elder Faust’s view it is possible that two people are fully forgiven but their responsibility/reward is unequal. I don’t want to dwell on the salvation vs exhaltation thing since I also don’t know what these terms mean and Elder Faust doesn’t define them. I take their introduction into his talk as simply a way to talk about unequalness in outcome. As a side note, I don’t think, in the economics of heaven, unequal implies that one person is lacking. (And BTW I want to retract this statement from #15: “I actually think it is TRUE that someone who leads a more sinful life but repents will receive the same reward that someone who leads a less sinful life and repents will receive.” That’s too precise. What I should have said is that they could receive the same reward.) But anyway if there is an unequalness in heaven, I don’t think one can guess people’s relative position. I take the statement “the last shall be first and the first shall be last” as telling us that we are more likely to guess wrong than right if we try to judge.

    CEF #5 talks about the parable of the laborers in the field. I agree that that parable is important to consider when thinking through this parable. I see that one as addressing a people who think their reward will be commensurate with how hard they work. To them Jesus says “what if some work an hour some work all day and I give them the same reward–so long as I am fair to everyone–what’s that to you?” Imagine instead a people who insist that everyone who repents is rewarded equally. To them a good parable might be one where God says “what if I give everyone different rewards–so long as I am fair to everyone–what’s that to you.” My point here is if God gives different rewards to different people, so long as he is fair to everyone, and given that he gives grace to all who repent and trust in him, why would we think that somehow such a result goes against the idea of the gospel as good news?

    Elder Faust does specifically call into question exhaltation as it relates to wayward repentant children. Why this specific group? I think the main reason he does this is against a backdrop where people say and believe that no matter what everything will end up the same because the kids are sealed to their parents. He wants to make sure that neither parents nor children believe that there are no real consequences for sin. The scriptures are filled with this balancing act–a tension–between telling us that forgiveness is 100% real and telling us that there are true consequences for sin. The same tension is present in this parable of the two sons. If I don’t understand how forgiveness is 100% real and there are true consequences for sin, at least it won’t be the only thing I have trouble understanding.

    Elder Faust finishes the paragraph quoted above with the line “The question as to who will be exalted must be left to the Lord in His mercy.” It is interesting that Elder Faust doesn’t leave the question to the Lord or the Lord in his justice, but rather the Lord in his mercy. I believe we all agree on this point and are grateful to know that the decision will not be any of ours, but rather the Lord’s in his mercy.

  38. Robert C. said

    Matthew, I like much of what you wrote (#37). One thing that I think you bring out nicely is how I think there’s a tendency to downplay the gloriousness of salvation because of our unique understanding of exaltation. Somehow your comment makes me think it’s awfully petty (perhaps like an inverted version of the older son in the parable…) to be complaining about sinners perhaps not receiving the exact same exalted reward as the older son, when the message of the first part of the parable seems to be the great news that the prodigal son will be forgiven, not cast off, welcomed home, and thus saved from the “just” consequences of his earlier actions.

    Also, the more I think about this parable, the more I’m inclined to think (in agreement with Jim, I think, and Matthew) that we are purposely left not knowing about the prodigal son’s status—what’s that to us? The point, it seems, is that welcoming the younger son back takes nothing away (or only that which is extremely trivial in the eternal scheme of things…) from the older son. True, in an economic world of scarcity, what is given to one is effectively taking from another, but I think this is perhaps where the parable breaks down because what is explicitly said is that the older son will receive all that the father has and I don’t think it’s as clear what the younger son will receive. (I’m still personally inclined to believe that the younger son will also receive all that the father has, i.e. exaltation, b/c I don’t think there’s scarcity in heaven and we are told that there are many mansions in heaven, but I don’t think a very strong case can be made that the parable is implying this, so I think we must read this as being ambiguous in the parable, and I think this is precisely Elder Faust’s point….)

    Thanks all for such an interesting discussion!

  39. Matt W. said

    I didn’t make it all the way through the comments, so I feel a bit guilty for preemptively writing this if it has already been said, but what cherylm posted from Bailey really struck a chord with me.

    The question to me is, can we squander grace?

    You see, the currency of the sons’ inheritance is money, but the currency of our inheritance(exaltation) is grace.

  40. CEF said

    Matthew – I am trying not to have a horse in this discussion, because I truly believe it is important to stay open minded, being swayed only by the truth. So if I come across as having some kind of bias, I do not mean to. I will try and address a few of your comments.

    I only heard the Joseph Smith quote maybe ten years ago. It was not something I heard in Arizona, and I took four years of seminary. And I came to the conclusion that such could/would be the case before I ever heard the quote. I do not remember just what sparked the thought in my mind, but something I read and/or felt made me believe there is something very special/powerful about the sealing in the temple. And then when I first heard that quote, I thought, well, there it is, just the way I thought it should be.

    It sounds like it is indeed talking about wayward children that die before they can repent, and that is why they have to pay for the sins themselves. But because of the sealing power of the priesthood, they can still be saved in the CK with their parents/family. Of course, assuming they want to be. And, assuming they have not comitted the unpardonable sin, why would they not want to be? I believe there is nothing more powerful in the whole universe than the power of understood grace. It has an affect like nothing I have ever felt, and can move one to repent like nothing else can.

    I agree that we should see this from the older son’s point of view, because I think Christ is talking to the Pharisees trying to answer their objection to his hanging out with sinners. But I also would like to think he said it loud enough for us sinners to hear, giving us hope for something better.

    Matthew, I tend to exaggerate to make a point so please take what I am going to say with that in mind, I am in no way trying to pick a fight here.

    Grace has nothing to do with fairness. Yancey talks about what he calls the “atrocious mathematics of grace.” To say that the prodigal son could receive a less reward in heaven, to me, destroys the majesty of the story. It would go something like this.

    Younger son of mine, I am so glad that you came to your senses and turned away from your sinful life and came back home, that I have thrown this big party for you to show how thankful am to have you back. But you cannot stay here, right after the party, you have to go where I will never be, and by the way, on your way out the door, be sure and leave the best robe, the ring, and the shoes I gave you so your older brother can have them. After all, that would be only fair. Oh, I almost forgot, I will be sending you a bill for the fatted calf.

    Even the parable of the laborers in the field/vineyard is not about fairness. It is not fair to pay someone for one hour the same as one would pay someone for all day. It is about getting what you were told you would get. And as long as you get what you were told you would get, it really should not matter what someone else gets.

    And for the tension of thinking I can sin now and pay later, perhaps we should stress more in our teaching our children just how bad will be the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth in hell, before we are allowed to come out, as opposed to, “thou art ever with me.”

  41. Matt W. said

    Ok, I’ve been thinking about this today and I don’t think the inheritance to be divided up is really just the money. The true inheritance is the type of life the father wants his children to have. As the prodigal returned and repented, he would eventually have the type of life his father wished for him, and thus, he had his inheritance. The older son, however, in rejecting his brother, was also rejecting his inheritance, in that he was rejecting the type of life his father would have him live.

  42. Rebecca L said

    Thank you all so much for your comments and Cherylem for your extensive quotations, I really enjoyed them!

    What about some less exalted options on the reading?

    If we read the parable and understand the older son/pharisees as the “heir”, ought we not ask what have they inherited in its entirety? They haven’t inherited eternal life or salvation (yet) but they have inherited the church and its administration and perhaps some kind of ritual righteousness. Just as clearly, the sinners have squandered this.

    The context of seeing the pharisees as those who should be out searching for the sheep (like the good shepherd and unlike the evil priest-shepherds of the Old Testament) underlines the admonition to the older son to be open and welcoming.

    This is such a fantastic parable on so many levels. Here the Lord is not only teaching the joy of finding the lost soul, but also that the pharisees too are lost souls but that they can repent and return to him themselves.

    I especially like the use of “I” in the older son’s discourse being replaced by the father’s “I” which is “thine”. I don’t know if this links to your thoughts Jim on being/charity. I expect that the older son only truly becomes the father’s heir when he understands the father’s joy and can welcome his brother with grace.

  43. To me this parable is about the love of the Father. It is about his love for us in spite of what we do. Both sons, the Pharasees and you and I, don’t fully demonstrate our love, gratiftude and respect to our Father in Heaven. Yes, it is about grace. I believe Mormon’s understand that.

    The story is unfinished, as someone mentioned. We do not know what happened in the balance of the two son’s lives. Our lives are unfinished. Regarding salvation and exaltation we must remember that we also believe in the law of eternal progression. Which suggest that though the younger son repented, as the parable indicates that he truly did. His slate was wiped clean by the atonement, but the time spent in unrighteous living can never be recovered. That time was spent in misery and progression did not take place. Yes, we are all saved by grace, but the time we spend here on earth outside the gospel laws and covenants results in misery and unhappiness here on earth.

    Thanks for all your comments. I am one who has a wandering son, whom I love and feel that I will one day be able to reclaim. I trust the “keeper of the gate.”

  44. Matthew said

    CEF (#40), I agree that grace has nothing to do with fairness. Other than that I’m not sure how best to respond. I hope no one undersands me to be saying that the father’s praise of his older son in anyway justifies the older son looking down on his younger brother.

    CEF, Matt, Rebecca, Steve and everyone else, thanks for your interesting and insightful comments.

  45. brianj said

    Rebecca L, #42: I think your idea of reading the parable in a “less exalted” manner is very helpful, and perhaps more true to the context and original intent. I’ll have to ponder it some more, but I will certainly present that as one possibility when teaching this lesson. Thanks!

  46. Cherylem said

    I want to get back to this discussion with some thoughts of Rene Girard on doubling but will not have time tonight. I attended a lecture on Friday night where the speaker spoke of women doubles: Rachel/Leah, and Mary/Martha as presented in Luke. I began to think of other brother stories in scripture, and remembered that Girard had a lot to say about the the doubling of brothers and the rivalries between them. So I want to address this briefly. Later.

  47. Robert C. said

    Cheryl, I await your comment anxiously. Already I’m thinking of parallels with Cain and Abel, parallels that are probably obvious but which I haven’t thought about before….

  48. I also await Cheryl’s comment anxiously. But in the meanwhile, since this lesson was taught yesterday in SS in our ward, I had an opportunity to think back through much of this parable (though the lesson was a very practical one asking for suggestions about what we can do this week to reclaim the lost sheep in our ward… which is at once ironic and yet necessary in a ward with 20% home teaching!). Some thoughts, then:

    First, I really do think Marion’s way of reading this parable is fundamental. That is, we have to recognize the nature of the “sin” at work in the younger son’s departure: he refused to live after the order of the gift/grace/family. Living at home, all his needs—and most likely his wants—were simply taken care of, but he would rather have his “living” (curious word, eh?) reified, substantialized in the form of an inheritance. Since he is the younger son, he is essentially losing a good part of his share in things: while both live in the order of the gift, they receive equally (both what they need and what they want as it arises), but when he drops out and takes away his inheritance, as the younger son, he will only receive a third of what the father can give (the oldest son gets a double portion under the Law). He refuses the order of the gift/grace/family, settling for a lesser share, precisely so that he can be thoroughly autonomous, so that he can do things “on his own.” He soon finds himself in, as Marion points out, khora (an important word for Derrida, another name for deconstruction), the Greek word translated “country” but which means something like an empty place. That is, the son finds himself in a place without laws, without order, without meaning. Inasmuch as he cuts his ties to the order of the gift, he is orderless, and so the property he has acquired quickly flees. When he decides to return to his father (and hence out of khora into an order again), he figures that he can only do so as a servant, according to the order of the wage/law/slave. But the father restores him immediately to the order of the son/gift/grace/family, out of pure love.

    Still summarizing Marion: the older son then does exactly the same thing as the younger son. He refuses to enter the house, parallel to the younger son’s departure. The father comes out to him in the same way as he did to the younger. He complains about not having the fatted calf killed, etc., thus demanding his due rather than the order of the gift. He points out that he has, for all these years, served his father, making himself a servant rather than a son. In a word, he does exactly what the younger son has done. The sin is universal.

    Now, moving beyond Marion somewhat. Can’t we recognize in this servant-to-son shift an explicit temple theme? The Aaronic priesthood is the priesthood after the order of the servant, and the Melchizedek priesthood is the priesthood of the order of the Son: the younger son attempts to return to sonship through the order of the servant, attempts to come to the Melchizedek through the Aaronic? Perhaps that seems a bit forced. But Exodus 21 gives us a precise Mosaic ritual for making a servant into a son: the servant is brought to the veil of the temple where he (it seems it only applies to male servants) is nailed to the post that holds up the veil, thus sealed into the family forever (he thus gets to keep his wife and children), becoming a son. When Isaiah makes explicit reference to this ritual in Isaiah 22, he says: “And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place,” making the servant (here, Eliakim) into a son, and thus “for a glorious throne to his father’s house.” There are some curious possibilities here.

    Rich, rich parable. I wonder what else might be buried here.

  49. Cherylem said

    Joe and Jim F,
    I read Marion last night. I think his reading has MUCH in common with Bailey’s.

  50. Al said

    Parables and great allegories, stories teach at many levels more than one principle. The parable of the prodigal son is a great example. While it does teach about accepting repentant souls back into our ward family, it also teaches one other LDS principle.
    In v12 we learn that the Father divided his living amongst his sons. Are we not blessed or given our gifts and talents and the free agency to use or not use them as we desire. The younger son wasted his gifts on riotous living. Then when he is at the bottom of the heap, he humbly repents and returns home asking forgiveness. He receives a robe, a ring and shoes. While the older son uses his gifts to serve his father and has never transgressed his commandments. In v31 I believe there is an important priciple in the response the father gives when he says to the faithful son. He says to him “all that I have is thine”. The footnote at the bottom refers us to D&C 84:38 where similar wording is used “all that my Father hath shall be given unto him”. This is in reference to the oath and covenant of the priesthood.
    Those brethren who are true and faithful to the oath and covenant of the priesthood shall receive all that the Father hath. Just also as are the sisters who are true and faithful to the covenants they make.
    To further illustrate my point – we know that those who, like King David, have committed murder will need to pay the penalty for their sin because the Atonement does not cover such a serious sin. They shall be sent to outer darkness and there pay the penalty. Now such souls who have committed the serious sin of murder and who are repentant and paid the penalty, they shall eventually come forth out of hell (outer darkness) and receive an inheritance in the telestial kingdom. All repentant souls will receive a kingdom, symbolised by the robe,the ring and shoes. Whether such a kingdoom be the telestial or terrestial. But it is only those who are ‘true and faithful in all things’ will receive ‘all that the Father hath’ in the celestial kingdom.
    A question this parable raises for latter-day saints is that we cannot squander our gifts and talents in this life and expect that a last minute repentance will result in entering into the celestial kingdom. We need to be faithful always.
    Spencer W. Kimball said: “But the other brother, who had been faithful, loyal, righteous and constant, retained his inheritance, and the father reassured him: “All that I have is thine” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, page 308)
    Joseph Fielding Smith said: “Son thou art ever with me, all all that I have is thine”. Is not that a glorious promise? That is what the Lord has promised us if we live as he has commanded us to do. He said we would become heirs of the celestial kingdom and become his sons and daughters. We learn that there rejoicing in heaven over every sinner who repents; but those who are faithful and transgress not any of the commandments, shall inherit ‘ALL that our Father hath’, while those who might be sons and daughters but through their riotous living waste their inheritance, may come back through repentance to salvation to be servants, not to inherit exaltation as sons and daughters of God.”
    (Seek Ye Earnestly, Page 89)
    I beleive accepting the Atonement does not mean I never do anything wrong, but as what was said earlier, little sins and big sins – as long as I do my best and seek to follow the Lord’s direction in my life.
    As far as sealing of families, my understanding ( which I hope is correct) is that if I have my children sealed to me they will always be sealed to my wife and me – some may ( hopefully not) but some may be in the terrestial kingdaom and some in the telestial (as servants), but wherever ( hopefully all will be in the celestial as kings and queens) we will still be a family sealed together forever. The parable to latter-day saints also teaches this I believe. That they are repentant and no longer in a ‘far country’ so to speak.
    I hope this is helpful to the discussion and my understanding of this parable.

  51. Cherylem said

    I’ve been having an off-blog conversation with a friend (JG) about this parable and thought I would post some of my friend’s comments here for us to think about. He touches on an issue we haven’t yet talked about: the kingship symbols of robe, ring, feast.

    JG has been following the blog discussion. Additionally, he heard the following quote read in Sunday School, and was upset by it:

    HOW DID THE FATHER RESPOND TO THE ELDER SON’S COMPLAINT?
    0.President Joseph Fielding Smith: “So we learn that there is rejoicing in heaven over every sinner who repents; but those who are faithful and transgress not any of the commandments, shall inherit ‘all that the Father hath,’ while those who might be sons, but thought their ‘riotous living’ waste their inheritance, may come back through their repentance to salvation to be servants, not to inherit exaltation as sons.
    0.
    “The wonderful story of the prodigal son has been misinterpreted almost universally. How frequently is the statement made from sectarian pulpits that because this younger son transgressed and committed all manner of sin and then repented, he was better off than his older brother who did not sin. By many the real lesson in this parable is lost. The younger son asked for his inheritance and received it. He went out and spent it in the vilest wickedness. When his substance was gone, he was forced by physical suffering and degradation to repent. Had his substance held out longer, he would have sinned that much more. It is needless to repeat all the circumstances of this story. It is sufficient to say that when he returned his father received him, but did not promise to reinstate him in the fullness of the inheritance; this is apparent in the answer made to the obedient son: ‘Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine’.” (The Way to Perfection, p21)

    With JG’s permission, I quote him in full, as he responds to this quote and the lesson he heard in GD:

    “The younger son gets kingship: the ring, the robe, the feast/Messianic Banquet promised to the repentant (same feast the older brother is refusing to take part in!!! He’s too filled with envy and self righteousness. Kind of goes back to that Sacrament talk I sent you: We keep ourselves out of the presence of God).

    “That sort of thinking (JFS, etc. above) is so typical of Mormon thinking. Where justice and obedience are more important than mercy and forgiveness. We conclude, mercy is inferior to justice. Pretty sad.

    “This was suggested [on the blog], but Faust, Jos. Fielding Sm., SWK’s opinion would all contradict the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. That’s the answer, in my opinion. It’s ironic really: those who say the younger brother gets something less makes them equivalent to the older brother. We can’t be happy for the sinner who works his way back. He can’t get something that we get – he must get less.

    “Nowhere does it say the younger brother does not also get everything. That’s the great paradox: in the world when someone gets something – it must mean someone else gets something less. With God, all can possess all. And isn’t this the message of Jesus over and over again? Jesus is constantly overturning the old way of thinking: Pharisees/Jewish leaders are the good guys – sinners are the bad guys. Also “choseness” is not about blood. Not about birth order. It’s transformation.

    “By the way, for your lesson, Elder Holland gave a GREAT talk on the older brother. A conference talk a couple of years ago. (And I would say he’s careful, but disagrees with Faust, etc.)

    “And yeah, the older son is as wayward as the younger. Just a different sort of wayward. You know who said some great stuff on this is Bailie. [JG is referring to Gil Bailie]

    “What about the scriptures: “…their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” (Heb 8:12) — “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord remember them no more.” (D&C 58:42) — “Forgiveness is as wide as repentance. Every person will be forgiven for all the transgression of which he truly repents. If he repents of all his sins, he shall stand spotless before God.” (Marion G. Romney)

    “Anyhow, I’ve written too much. I was just really shocked when the GD teacher read the Joseph Fielding Smith quote above.”

    Thus ends JG’s private comments to me. Since I haven’t had time to get to Girard and this parable and the doubling/rivalries of brothers, I thought I’d post this as yet another take on the parable of the two sons. I do think the kingship symbols are significant and important. And I thought JG’s response to the lesson generally was very interesting.

  52. CEF said

    Steve – Please take my word for it, as I am not picking on you or anyone else here, but I really am struggling with this issue. To me, this one parable defines what it is to be Christian, and therefore very important to get correct.

    First, grace is not generally understood to be a part of this parable to Mormons. If it was, we would not be having this discussion. When you say, “His slate was wiped clean by the atonement, but the time spent in unrighteous living can never be recovered.” You are changing the story. There is no “but” in the story. Dwelling on the time spent in unrighteous living is not healthy to those who have repented.

    Al – Again, I am not picking on you either, I but I will politely take issue with what you said. “He receives a robe, a ring and shoes” does not in any way, that I understand, refer to anything but to the CK. And David and murder have no place in this story at all. Why bring them in?

    “A question this parable raises for latter-day saints is that we cannot squander our gifts and talents in this life and expect that a last minute repentance will result in entering into the celestial kingdom. We need to be faithful always.” Good luck with that one. Robinson makes the point in his “Believing Christ” that the way Mormons use the phrase “keeping the commandments” is incorrect. That phrase really means keeping the commandments all of the time, which none of us really do. A more correct use of that phrase would be “trying to keep the commandments.” So why not last minuet repentance? Other wise, why would we try and convert anyone, say, over the age of fifty? Or maybe forty? How long does one have to live in order to accumulate enough good works to make it to the CK? Or is it, as I believe, a matter of a mighty change of heart, and grace that really gets one to the CK?

    It is okay to quote the GAs to help make a point, but according to JFS, should a leader, big or small, say something that is not in keeping with the scriptures, we are not obligated to believe it. I do not believe the quotes you used, are in keeping with what this parable teaches.

    Cherylem – I am going to do something that I believe is very dumb to do. I am driving stakes into the ground on this one issue. How can we claim to be Christians, when we can’t get a story about grace correct? Like JG, I too sat in a GD lesson and listened to a teacher say things about this parable that I just cannot accept as true. Perhaps unlike JG, I said something about it and my membership in the Church has not been the same since. I do not know who JG is, but I feel a kinship with him and appreciate his view very much. I would venture a guess that he did not come to his understanding of this parable by reading things in the Church.

    Just last Sunday in Sacrament meeting, the HC speaker keep using the terms, “eternal life is a free gift that we have to earn.” I kept wondering, couldn’t he hear what he was saying, and was I the only one in the meeting that was brothered by what he was saying?

    I hope no one is offended by what I said, and I apologize if anyone was. As I said, I am really struggling with this.

  53. RuthS said

    Some time ago I came to the conclusion that the way a person interprets scripture, especially in our day and time, tells us more about the interpreter than it does the scripture. Reading all of these comments only convinces me it is true. If one takes the parable of the two brothers and puts it in the context of the time frame when it originiated and then looks for salient points of the story that deal with the situation in which it was given a lot of the extraneous and modern stuff just falls away. While scripture stories are ripe for reinterpritation it is my belief that it is important to understand what the original intent was before one begins to add on layers of meaning derived from personal expereience. All kinds of meanings can be found in any kind of writing. Ask anyone who has ever written a poem, a play or a parable and then hears someone else say what they think it means. So lets just recognize that the parable is a teaching tool and different teachers use it to teach different things. Things that may or may not have any basis in the original story. Still, that interpretation is valid for them if they can find it there. But it is not necissrly valid for me. I don’t have to buy into it though I may recognize the point they desire to make by using it that way.

    It seems to me that the story of the two sons tells us the reason why the “faithful” son who is out in the field when he hears the feast going on is upset. When his younger brother asked for his inheritance his father divided his assets between the two of them. One son took what was his and went away. The father wasn’t dead but he was, in our terms, retired. The son who remained at home was managing all the assets (proceeds of his inheritance) and taking care of his father. This explains why the older son says his brother has squanderd his father’s living rather than saying he has squanderd his inheritance–legaly once the father had given the assets to the youngest son they were no longer his. As a result as the father ages the older son believes the younger son will not be be able to contribute materialy to his support. Even if he works for his brother he will be a drain. We can all identify with that. We can find examples of similar situations in and out of the church that would make for some interesting interpretations on this theme.

    I will forgo that because the point of the parable is to point out the reason why Jesus eats with sinners. And the reason he does is because some of them may repent. He knows full well that those asking the question are not as perfect as they pretend to be. But, if they were to repent and join the party they then would regloice and the sons would become joint heirs and inherit all that the father had left.

  54. CEF said

    RuthS – I will forgo that because the point of the parable is to point out the reason why Jesus eats with sinners. And the reason he does is because some of them may repent. He knows full well that those asking the question are not as perfect as they pretend to be. But, if they were to repent and join the party they then would regloice and the sons would become joint heirs and inherit all that the father had left.

    CEF – I do not have a problem with that at all.

  55. I’m not sure whether I’m missing something here. Inasmuch as the parable responds to the situation of Jesus eating with sinners, doesn’t it do so with the image of the father feasting with the returned son? That is, Jesus doesn’t eat with the sinners because they might repent, but because they eat with Him: they have repented in that they sit to meat with him.

    The last handful of comments here make me want to suggest “The Bible and the Imagination” by Paul Ricoeur for general reading.

    But perhaps more important than the issues Ricoeur raises is this: as we watch this drama of the parable of the two sons unfold, who do we identify with? Or rather, who are we playing this time through? And how might I probe this script a hundred ways as I practice for performance? Where might I place inflection, and how shall I set up the backdrop? Who plays this or that other character, and how do I confront her or him onstage? What was the original meaning of this Greek word, and do I care to retranslate it? How might ancient history bear on the meaning here, and how might I articulate the effect of our current thinking on the text?

    Aren’t we bound to the text far more than we are to any interpretation, whether that interpretation be ancient or modern, great or reductionistic?

    What is the status of the text in Mormonism…?

  56. Al said

    There seems to creep in some of the discussion here what appears to be evangelical concepts in which the grace of God will forgive everyone for everything and all we need to do is believe. Nephi teaches “we are saved by grace after all we can do” (2 Ne 25:23).
    Please read “Grace Works” and “Lost and Found: Reflections on the Prodigal Son” and “When a Child Wanders” all by Robert L. Millet which give a far better explanation on this topic than I can.

    My use of King David was only to use an extreme example to make a clear point. This is used by many writers and even the Saviour in his parables. The point is there are varying degress of sin. Through the grace of God, after all we can do, we are promised forgiveness. However, the reward will not be the same for all of us. Forgiveness does not mean all recieve the same reward. Service in the field is not the issue raised here. The question the Saviour is answering in Luke 15 is that all sinners will receive a reward in heaven, having recognised their sins and sought forgiveness. But with the parable of the prodigal son there is not one heaven and one hell. But many degrees of heaven. (2 Cor 12:2) When we are resurrected we are raised to different degress of glory(1 Cor 15: 39-42)not just the Celestial Kingdom.
    The prodigal son “sinned against heaven” (v18) While the prodigal son was forgiven, but his reward was different from that of the loyal son who received all the father had (v31). Yet even the loyal son, who had worked in the field had still one lesson to learn – to overcome pride (as I imagine many of us do) (v28).

    We are many times warned – don’t take one sentance or phrase and read everything into it. Read the entire phrase in context. Pres. Faust, Pres. Smith and all the GAs are in harmony. As with all parables they show different levels of meaning and to me these are in harmony when understood. Just keep studying with the Spirit.
    Spencer W. Kimball
    “In the impressive parable of the Prodigal Son the Lord taught us a remarkable lesson. This squanderer lived but for today. He spent his life in riotous living. He disregarded the commandments of God. His inheritance was expendable, and he spent it. He was never to enjoy it again, as it was irretrievably gone. No quantity of tears or regrets or remorse could bring it back. Even though his father forgave him and dined him and clothed him and kissed him, he could not give back to the profligate son that which had been dissipated. But the other brother, who had been faithful, loyal, righteous and constant, retained his inheritance, and the father reassured him: ‘All that I have is thine.’
    “…the father might have said something like this: ‘Son, this is your estate-all of it. Everything is yours. Your brother has squandered his part. You have everything. He has nothing but employment and Our forgiveness and Our love. We can well afford to receive him graciously. We will not give him, your estate nor can we give him back all that he has foolishly squandered.’ He did say: ‘For this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. . .’ And he said also: ‘Son, thou art ever with me and all that I have is thine.’
    Is there not significance in that statement of the father? Does not that signify eternal life?” (The Miracle of Forgiveness pages 308-309)
    Joseph Fielding Smith
    “’Son thou art ever with me, and ALL that I have is thine.’ Is not that a glorious promise? That is what the Lord has promised us if we live as he has commanded us to do. He said we would become heirs of the celestial kingdom and become his sons and daughters.
    “We learn that there is rejoicing in heaven over every sinner who repents; but those who are faithful and transgress not any of the commandments, shall inherit ‘ALL that our Father hath,’ while those who might be sons and daughters but through their riotous living waste their inheritance, may come back through their repentance to salvation to be servants, not to inherit exaltation as sons and daughters of God. Some people think that wealth of worldly good is all that they need, others want power and position among their fellow men, but there is one inheritance which is worth more than all, it is the inheritance of eternal exaltation.” (Seek Ye Earnestly page 89.)
    Carlos E. Asay
    “It is important that you keep in mind the miracle of forgiveness through the goodness and grace of our Savior. Many rejoice when the sinner comes to himself and repents. But it is also very important that you remember this unchanging truth: ‘That man [or woman] who resists temptation and lives without sin is far better off than the man [or woman] who has fallen, no matter how repentant the latter may be. Ö How much better it is never to have committed the sin!’ (The Road to Somewhere: A Guide for Young Men and Women page 123.)
    Howard W. Hunter, teaches both sons had a lesson to learn:
    “Both brothers in the parable desperately need the Lord to free them of their burdens. This is the message of the parable. We learn from this parable that all of us, regardless of our status or condition, have an absolute need of the Lord’s saving grace.” (Latter-day Commentary on the New Testament: The Four Gospels, by Pinegar, Bassett, and Earl, page 255)

    Lastly, on the issue that salvation is free (2 Ne 2:4)”The term, “salvation,” can be used to mean many different things. In this context, it refers to the fact that all of God’s children will be resurrected and thereby overcome physical death. Death came into the world by one man, Adam. The resurrection was engineered by One-even the Mighty One of Israel. This gift is free. No matter how evil or rebellious the individual is, he or she will be resurrected at the last day.”
    But in terms of Eternal Life, not Resurrection, we are taught “no unclean thing can enter into the kingdom of God” (Alma 11:37). Eternal Life is not free for it requires effort on our part as an outward expression of our internal faith in Christ and change of heart. Christ paid the price, but while God’s forgiveness may pay the penalty it does not mean that we are rehabilitated. Read “The Broken Heart” by Bruce C. Hafen he explains it better than me, and has more space and time.
    Grace is offered to all mankind and we need to do is Come unto Christ and Follow Him. Note we come to Him. The two sons come to their father.

  57. Cherylem said

    By the way, Joe S, here is a comment Rene Girard made regarding God Without Being:

    R.G.: What you can say, in my view, is that the Father is working on a sort of historical schedule. Christ comes at the right time, at the right hour. I think Gil Bailie’s paper (already cited)(1) is very important because it suggests that kenosis, emptying, here the emptying of the personality, is crucial. Bailie refers to Jean-Luc Marion, God without Being, and helps me understand it. I had struggled with the book. I think the title “God without being” could be translated as “God without the sacred” — God without sacred violence, God without scapegoating. (pp. 281-282)

    This was from here:http://girardianlectionary.net/res/atonement_webpage.htm

  58. Thanks, Cheryl. That finally gave me a way into Girard, to equate (roughly, always roughly) his scapegoating with Heidegger’s Being. Very helpful.

  59. RuthS said

    Joe Spencer-Inasmuch as the parable responds to the situation of Jesus eating with sinners, doesn’t it do so with the image of the father feasting with the returned son? That is, Jesus doesn’t eat with the sinners because they might repent, but because they eat with Him: they have repented in that they sit to meat with him.

    The parable is given in response to murmerings by the Pharisees in order to discredit him because he “receiveth sinners , and eateth with them.” Luke 15:2 Jesus does not say he is not eating with repentant sinners or that they are eating with them because they have repented. He simply gives the three parables. And they are parables that refer to the things of this realm not the heavenly one. His intent, it seems to me, is to make a point to the Pharisees and the scribes. Everyone, including the Pharisees, sins.

    The parable does not indicate that the inheritance the younger son squanderd was anything other than his earthly inheritance. He has not given up his opportunity to repent. There is no question he cannot get back what he has already spent. That does not mean he cannot change his ways and build his own estate. It does mean that if the father should add any thing of significance to his estate outside what has already been given to the older son the younger son could still inherit.

    There is nothing in the parable that indicates what the eternal reward of either son might be unless the person interpreting it decides that the estate being divided is not an earthly estate. Since the parable is part of a trilogy and the other two are about redeeming what was lost in this earthly realm it seems to follow that the estate is an eartly estate.

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