Andrew Perriman offers a reflection on the Prodigal Son, a story that has been important to me over many years. Indeed the name and strap line of this blog make a clear link; well a link in my mind anyway.
“…The problem with the first son was not that he had worked dutifully while the other had played the wastrel. It was not that he tried to justify himself by not disobeying his father’s command (15:29). His problem, which was the problem of the Pharisees and scribes, was that he could not accept the forgiveness extended towards his brother, he could not join in the celebration. He begrudged his father’s generosity.
The story told in Matthew of a man who recruits labourers to work in his vineyard throughout the day makes the same point. At the end of the shift, they are all paid the same amount, and those who worked through the heat of the day are naturally disgruntled. But the master of the house replies to one of them:
Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? (Matt. 20:13-15)
Those who complained are rebuked for their mean-spiritedness, but there is no suggestion that they should not have worked throughout the day in the vineyard. They were there to work. That was why they had been employed in the first place.
This is not about whether we earn our salvation or not. It is about whether as we go about doing the work of God we can allow him to have mercy on those who do not work.
This was not a trivial matter. In fact, the inability of the leaders of Israel to get the point of forgiveness was to prove their downfall. But this is a very different narrative to the story of personal salvation that the parable is coerced into illustrating in evangelistic sermons.
What are we to do about this? Until the revolution comes and a narrative-historically constructed worldview displaces the modern theologically constructed worldview, we are probably stuck with misinterpreting Jesus for the sake of our gospel. But I think we should at least be aware of the fact that the stories we tell are not necessarily the stories that Jesus told, for all their superficial similarities…”
You can read Andrew’s whole post here.