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The Parable of the Benevolent Father and Son

TitleThe Parable of the Benevolent Father and Son
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsLinford, Matthew R.
JournalInterpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture
KeywordsAncient Near East; Atonement; Clothing; Culture; Doctrine; Jesus Christ; Lost Sheep; Old World; Parable; Parable of the Prodigal Son; Patriarch; Repentance; Son; Temple

A discussion is presented on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, including the departure of the young man into a faraway land, his return, and the welcome he received from his father. To better understand the cultural significance of this story, a Middle Eastern scholar (Kenneth Bailey) is referenced. The prodigal son breaks his father’s heart when he leaves home, but at the same time his older brother fails in his duty to his family. The father in the parable represents Christ, who is seen to take upon himself the shame of his returning boy and later of his older brother. The reinstatement of the prodigal son is confirmed by the actions of the father, who embraces him, dresses him in a robe, puts shoes on his feet, has a ring placed on his finger, brings him into his house, and kills the fatted calf for him. These actions have deep gospel and cultural significance. The older son’s failure to come into the feast for his brother is a public insult to his father, and his words to his father in the courtyard are a second public insult. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is shown to be similar to other stories from the scriptures, including Jesus’s meal with Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36–43), the Parable of the Man and His Great Supper (Luke 14:16–24), the Parable of the King and His Son’s Wedding (Matthew 22:2–14), and Lehi’s dream in 1 Nephi 8. Consistent elements across these stories include a feast/meal, a male authority figure who initiates or invites others to the feast, well-to-do guests who refuse the invitation, their criticism of the host of the feast and their fellowman, an application of grace, and the presence of the less favored individuals at the feast at the end of the stories. It is shown that the prodigal son represents the publicans and sinners of Jesus’s day, while the older son represents the scribes and Pharisees. Emphasis is placed on the remarkable countercultural and benevolent role played by the father/patriarch in these stories.