True Elder Brother
of resources . . . around the party theme: The PARTY as
E. Bailey, the perspective of a New Testament scholar who lived and taught in
the Middle East for almost 50 years.
ceremony, exercised by the entire community
brother, intending to earn his way back
to Moses (Ex 10.16, Bailey)
planning ahead, “seeks” him, finding him at the edge of town
father accepts him
collectors and sinners
figure, the savior figure
brother” the parable longs for
brother throws a fit … like son vs father shouting match at a big family
wedding, in public view of the entire community (Bailey)
over definition of the feast (Bailey)
celebration of FINDING
celebration of the SINNER
wanted to pay back:
might say, it’s better to be a younger brother, better a rule breaker, because
we think the party is thrown for him
father in celebration of what the father has accomplished in reconciling his
player of the year”. “It is not our
remorse [or the younger brother’s remorse] that forces God to set the banquet
table . . . We cannot throw our own party” (Thomas Long).
feast is not a celebration of sinners, or of our righteousness
this thy table”
feast – the PARTY – is a celebration of the SAVIOR
father: “My son was dead and is now alive … we had to celebrate!”
if I were putting together a sinners’ table . . . , it might include an
abortion doctor, a child molester, an arms dealer, a garbage collector, a young
man with AIDS, a Laotian chicken plucker, a teenage crack addict, and an
unmarried woman on welfare with five children by three different fathers. Did I miss anyone? Don’t forget to put Jesus at the head of the
table, asking the young man to hand him a roll, please, and offering the doctor
a second cup of coffee before she goes back to work.
you are almost ready for what happens next.
Because what happens next is that the local ministerial association
comes into the restaurant and sits down at a large table across from the
sinners. The religious authorities all
have good teeth and there is no dirt under their fingernails. When their food comes, they hold hands to
pray. They are all perfectly nice
people, but they can hardly eat their hamburger steaks for staring at the
strange crowd in the far booth.
white hair net, and the garbage collector smells like spoiled meat. The addict cannot seem to find his mouth with
his spoon. But none of those is the
heartbreaker. The heartbreaker is Jesus,
sitting there as if everything were just fine.
setting, imagined by Barbara Brown Taylor, pulls us out of the specific
dynamics of the parable and connects us with the context: Jesus is welcoming
and eating with tax collectors and sinners.
The religious folks are offended: How can he be holy and keep company
contamination perspective on the world would be someone who was so holy that
they could not be contaminated by anyone.
But who could that be? And if
someone was truly that holy, why would they want to hang with sinners?
Jesus indeed, and that he did choose to eat with sinners and tax
collectors. On the cross, he cries out,
“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
He was rejected so that we could be accepted. He was forsaken so that we could be
welcomed. He was abandoned so that we
could be rescued.
NEW COMMUNITY, a community of everyone who says “yes” to God’s invitation,
a community that is not defined by our need to divide and define, in or out, us
or them. [MLK’s dream] It is a community that anticipates and
experiences the reality that God will be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15.28).
the most reckless one in the story, the most extravagant in generosity, is the
father. So too, Jesus has given himself
away, emptied himself, become nothing, forsaken, abandoned, rejected.
party is the sign and instrument of Reconciliation.
party celebrates our Savior.
party is the embodiment of New Community.
E. Bailey, “The Pursuing Father”, Christianity Today, Oct 26 1998, pp
Long, “Living by the Word: Surprise Party”, Christian Century, Mar 14
2001, p 10,
Brown Taylor, “Living by the Word: Table Manners”, Christian Century,
Mar 11 1998, p 257.