In the Guardian piece ‘Why do we feel so guilty all the time?’, Devorah Baum writes
In ‘This is Me’ from The Greatest Showman
‘No one will love you as you are.’
But I won't let them break me down to dust,
I know that there’s a place for us…
What do you think might be good or healthy about seeing ourselves as ‘sinners’? And what might be the problems with it?
Why do you think Jesus attracted ostracised people like tax collectors and prostitutes, who were seen by others and by themselves as sinners?
(As we saw in Study B, Jewish tax collectors were despised as traitors for taxing their fellow Jews on behalf of the Roman occupiers and were also notorious for their corruption and greed.)
On what grounds do you think the religious leaders objected to Jesus’ welcome of such people? Can you sympathise with them?
Jesus tells his most famous parable as an answer to the criticism of verse 2. Familiar though it might be after two thousand years, it’s hard to overestimate how shocking this story would have been to a first century Jewish audience: children were raised to revere their parents and obey the Law (including the avoidance of ‘unclean’ animals like pigs), and the norm was for them to remain with their family throughout their life, care for their ageing parents and relatives (in the absence of pensions or care homes) and inherit their share of the family land when their father died.
Considering the context, what is so shocking about the younger son’s request to his father in verse 12? How would you imagine the father would have felt about it? Are you surprised by his response?
Why do you think the younger son leaves home and travels so far away?
What motivates the son to return home? On what basis is he hoping to re-enter the household? And how do you think the original hearers might have expected the father to react?
Describe what the father’s reaction shows us about his feelings towards the son. Why did he see him ‘while he was still a long way off’? Why did he humiliate himself by running through the village to meet him (respectable men did not run in that culture)? What’s the purpose of the four instructions he gives in verses 22-23?
How do you imagine the son would have felt on receiving this welcome from the father? And how might the hearers have felt about Jesus describing God like this?
A second time the father goes out to meet his son, but this time it is the elder son, and he is refusing to come into the feast, where everyone would have expected him to act as host alongside his father.
Why is the son so angry with his father that he shames and insults him like this? Can you sympathise?
Compare v29 and v31 — what’s the difference between the father’s attitude to the son and how the son understands their relationship?
The elder son is very aware of the differences between him and his younger brother, but in what ways do his words and actions reveal similarities between them?
What point do you think Jesus is making to the religious leaders in the crowd whose complaints had prompted this story? Why do you think he ends the story on a cliff hanger, not telling us whether or not the elder brother comes into the feast?
The author Tim Keller in his book The Prodigal God reflects that the parable reveals both sons as lost:
Jesus does not divide the world into good people and bad people. Each one of us resists God and seeks our own ends and, equally, each one of us is loved by God and invited back into an intimate, joyful, satisfying relationship with him, likened to the great feast in the parable.
What were the barriers to each son coming home to the feast? Do any of these barriers resonate with you?