Wednesday, November 15, 2006

More on Jonah & the Prodigal Son

In my previous post, I began discussing the similarities of ending--and purpose--of the book of Jonah and Jesus' parable of the "lost son."
I cited the test of how often the Jonah story is told for children without revealing Jonah's whiny ending. It occurred to me that this is often done with the Prodigal Son, too. It's a little easier to do with the parable, since Jesus has set up a pattern in Luke 15. Jesus tells a story about a sheep: It's lost; it's found; there's a party. Then a story about a coin: It's lost; it's found; there's a party. Then a son: He's lost; he's found; there's a party. BUT, Jesus actually continues on to bring in the reaction of the older brother, angry at the squandered grace (so he thinks) of the Father. It does take some of the zing out of our "altar calls" to actually end the story the way Jesus does. We prefer to say, "And just like the father in the story, the Lord waits with arms open wide for you to come home! Won't ya come home today as we sing 16 verses of 'Just As I Am'!"
Not only that, we figure that it's baffling for children to leave Bible stories--or any stories--unresolved. So, we stick with the happy ending of Jonah--the Ninevites repented and God spared them--and the safe happy ending of the Prodigal Son--The Father welcomed the son home with celebration.

It made me wonder, do we think that the point of those stories is something different than it may actually be? The book of Jonah spends so much time with Jonah trying to escape the will of God, that perhaps we think that's the point of the story! "Jonah refused to submit to the Lord's will, but when he finally came to his senses and did what God wanted him to, good things happened. And so, when we quit running and finally submit to God, good things will happen for us!" But is that the point of the book of Jonah? I don't think so.
Here's the thing: when we cut off the awkward unresolved ending of the Prodigal Son, we make--essentially--the same assertion! "The son ran away and lived contrary to his father's will. Then he came to his senses and got back to where he was supposed to be, and good things happened! So, boys and girls, when we quit running away from God and come back home to him where we belong, good things will happen for us!" Meanwhile, the point of the story as Jesus told it was ultimately an indictment of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, angry that Jesus had the gall to welcome tax-collectors and sinners and eat with them!

2 comments:

Gregory said...

Isn't that a common practice though, Allen? To take the Scriptures, or the words of Jesus, and alter them slightly to make our point, true though it may be?

I hate the way that we raise up naive children who believe that the Bible is all fairy tales and happy endings. Though God triumphs in the end, the Bible is rife with heartache and pain because of those who refuse to yield to God. We learn lessons from those unrepentant people, and the endings should not be changed or omitted.

Allen said...

Is it a common practice? Not if I can help it! Not on my watch!

Yeah. It is. Too common. I guess that's why I try to be extra careful not to do that with my sermons/lessons, and to take the time to point out the context when possible. I don't like being quoted out of context, even to make a valid point, and I suspect the Lord doesn't care much for it either.
All those similarities just fascinated me. I'm sure some scholar with a PhD probably has wrung all the marrow from that discussion in some theological journal, and picked up on stuff I can't even begin to imagine on a surface level musing.