Monday, November 28, 2011

Pushing the parable too far?

So far, I hope you’ve been as refreshed by reading The Prodigal God as I have. I’ve been encouraged by Keller’s new perspective and illumination on the parable of the ‘prodigal son’ from Luke’s gospel. I’ve never really thought that hard about what part the older brother plays in the parable, or why Jesus even included him in the parable. But now, as I read through this book, I have been reminded afresh of God’s unending love and offer of forgiveness, seen in the younger brother. And I’ve been rebuked and challenged seeing the hardened and self-righteous heart of the elder brother. I’ve appreciated the way Keller has delved so deeply into this parable.

Yet my worry in this next chapter (The True Elder Brother) is that Keller is pushing this parable a bit too far.

Bear with me for a second on this one, because throughout this chapter, I think Keller makes some really good points. While comparing Jesus to what the elder brother should have been like, he draws out some really important and wonderful aspects of what Jesus did for our forgiveness. Jesus sought us out. He came to find us when we were lost, and when we had no hope of finding him. We can only be forgiven when Jesus comes to us, when the Holy Spirit makes us see our need for a saviour, and when the father offers us forgiveness. What a fantastic and humbling truth this is!

But not only that, Jesus seeks us out to offer us forgiveness; a forgiveness which has cost him greatly! As Keller so clearly explains, forgiveness cannot come without a cost to the one offering it. And what a cost Jesus pays.

Despite these points, I’m not fully convinced of Keller’s whole argument. I’m not entirely sure that this parable leads us in the first place to a ‘true’ elder brother who does these things. I want to let the bible speak for itself, and a few times Keller has made arguments based on things I just don’t think are in the text. For example, the passage gives us no information whatsoever that the elder brother should have gone out to look for the younger son. The parable never tells us that.

I also think that it’s quite a jump to compare these two brothers with the story of Cain and Abel. I don’t think Jesus has given us enough hints to point to a common thread between his parable, and the story of the brothers in Genesis. I just wonder if Keller is reading a bit more into the parable than Jesus first intended.

But have you been convinced of his argument? Do you think Jesus really is the fulfilment of the elder brother role in this parable?

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