There are 16 thoughts on “The Parable of the Benevolent Father and Son”.

  1. I really enjoyed Matthew Linford’s response to my comments because we both agree on the most important point of all: the Lord’s atonement enables everyone – including the prodigal son and the older son AND US – to repent. That’s a message that’s always true in any of the Lord’s parables.
    In making that most important point – the Lord’s atonement enables everyone to repent – one point. however, is missing in the father’s receiving his prodigal son home. The missing point is that the father’s loving, generous greeting to his prodigal son would have occurred even if the prodigal son was only partially repentant. The wrong assumption is that such a greeting would have occurred only if there were complete repentance. Have you ever worked with an inactive member who finally – after months of effort – comes to church? I have. In church I have quickly walked by friends, including my closest friends, to greet the inactive member who has finally come out to church. I have walked quickly to make sure the inactive person didn’t leave before I could reach him. I doubt if I have ever greeted my friends with any more warmth and joy than I did that inactive member. Although my friends have never asked me why I walked by them so fast with no greeting, they could have correctly said, “Lanny, you’ve never greeted us that warmly.” True! In fact, I have to be careful not to appear too gushy with the inactive member in order that I don’t embarrass him.
    If my son had been involved in “riotous living” – which does imply the “harlots” attributed to the prodigal son by his older brother, contrary to your interpretation of meaning only the misuse of money – I would welcome my son home and would be delighted, thrilled that he had given up his riotous living. On his return I would NOT mention to my son his need to pay tithing, to go on a mission, to be sealed in the temple – at least, not immediately, at least not in my first welcoming him home. In fact, it might be quite a while before I would bring up with him such essentials. Instead, I would be thrilled with his degree of repentance. Any full repentance has to be begin with partial repentance. Of course, of course, of course I would hope for his full repentance, but I would be delighted, thrilled at his giving up his “riotous living,” knowing that his full repentance required his first giving up his riotous living. Even if the prodigal son never fully repents but becomes a decent human being but not a Christ-like person, I would love him and rejoice in his return from “riotous living,” knowing that he would receive a great glory: the terrestrial kingdom, which includes those who with the celestial persons will survive the Second Coming of the Savior.
    Part of the purpose of the Parable of the Prodigal Son is to teach that we are to delight in any degree of repentance.
    About the older son being a Pharisee, I will refer again to Matthew 23: 23 – 33. Rather than quote all 11 verses again (in which the Savior referred to the Pharisees as hypocrites 5 times), I will quote only 3 of those verses in which Jesus refers to the Pharisees as “whited sepulchres,” “children of them which killed the prophets,” “serpents,” and “vipers.”
    27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
    31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
    33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
    All the negative descriptions of the older brother in the explanation of the parable don’t match the Savior’s condemnation of the Pharisees, who would eventually push for the crucifixion of the Savior. The explanation of the parable is that the father was too kind to chastise the older son, implying that Heavenly Father doesn’t give harsh chastisements. This unfortunately goes along with some Christians’ false views that the Old Testament is not really scripture because its god is too harsh. I have heard some Christians say that the Old Testament is not really part of the Gospel because it is far too harsh to be the scripture of a loving god. Yet we know that Jesus is actually Jehovah, God of the Old Testament, and that Jesus describes Himself as the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – all 3 of whom are in the Old Testament. The idea that God’s great love for us does not include harsh chastisement, is false as shown by Matthew 23: 23 – 33 and by many other chastisements given by the Lord in all of our standard works. If the older son had been as wicked as described in the explanation of the parable, the father would have chastised him. But nothing in the father’s chastisement of the older son remotely resembles the Lord’s harsh chastisement of the Pharisees in Matthew 23: 23 – 33 or other unrighteous people in the scriptures.

  2. I published the essay in Interpreter entitled: “The Parable of the Benevolent Father and Son” (Matthew R. Linford, “The Parable of the Benevolent Father and Son” Interpreter. A Journal of Mormon Scripture. 22 (2016): 149 – 178.), which is a commentary on the Parable of the Prodigal Son and related scriptures. Feedback from various individuals on this essay have prompted this belated response. This is Part 3 of my response.
    Accordingly, I believe that the two interpretations of the Parable of the Prodigal Son listed above can each be correct within their own spheres. President Kimball’s prophetic interpretation is entirely valid, inspired, and true, as are more recent statements from various Church leaders on this parable that have introduced greater nuance into its interpretation. Indeed, these later statements from our leaders acknowledge to a greater extent the problematic natures of both sons in the parable. If we insist that President Kimball had the last, inviolable word on this parable, then we would have to question, at least to some small degree, some of the later statements from our leaders. Thus, one might argue that there are at least three interpretations here: the words of President Kimball, more recent comments from our Church leaders, and the historical interpretation suggested by Bailey. It is my interpretation of President Oaks’ words that it is not at all inconsistent for us to accept multiple statements from our leaders in which they may interpret the same scriptures differently, and that these inspired interpretations do not necessarily have to agree with what a scripture may have originally meant to the people that first heard it.

  3. I published the essay in Interpreter entitled: “The Parable of the Benevolent Father and Son” (Matthew R. Linford, “The Parable of the Benevolent Father and Son” Interpreter. A Journal of Mormon Scripture. 22 (2016): 149 – 178.), which is a commentary on the Parable of the Prodigal Son and related scriptures. Feedback from various individuals on this essay have prompted this belated response. This is Part 2 of my response.
    “Some Christians accept the Bible as the one true word, completely inspired of God in its entirety. At the opposite extreme, some other Christians consider the Bible as the writings of persons who may or may not have been inspired of God, which writings have little moral authority in our day. The Latter-day Saint belief that the Bible is “the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” (A of F 1:8) places us between these extremes, but this belief is not what makes us unique in Christianity.
    What makes us different from most other Christians in the way we read and use the Bible and other scriptures is our belief in continuing revelation. For us, the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge, but what precedes the ultimate source. The ultimate knowledge comes by revelation. With Moroni we affirm that he who denieth revelation “knoweth not the gospel of Christ” (Morm. 9:8).”
    “The word of the Lord in the scriptures is like a lamp to guide our feet (see Ps. 119:105), and revelation is like a mighty force that increases the lamp’s illumination many fold. We encourage everyone to make careful study of the scriptures and of the prophetic teachings concerning them and to prayerfully seek personal revelation to know their meaning for themselves.”
    “Because of our belief in continuing revelation, we Latter-day Saints maintain that the canon (the authoritative body) of scriptures is open. In fact, the scriptural canon is open in several ways, and continuing revelation is crucial to each of them.”
    “First, we believe that God will guide his children by giving new additions to the existing body of scriptures through the prophet and the established procedures of his Church. The Book of Mormon is such an addition. So are the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, including sections 137 and 138 [D&C 137; D&C 138], which were added in our lifetime.”
    “Second, we believe that God will give new revelations on the meaning of scriptures previously canonized, meanings that were not evident in earlier times.”
    Later in his article he adds:
    “The idea that scripture reading can lead to inspiration and revelation opens the door to the truth that a scripture is not limited to what it meant when it was written but may also include what that scripture means to a reader today. Even more, scripture reading may also lead to current revelation on whatever else the Lord wishes to communicate to the reader at that time. We do not overstate the point when we say that the scriptures can be a Urim and Thummim to assist each of us to receive personal revelation.”
    And also:
    “Another reason for repeated reading of the scriptures is that many of the prophecies and doctrinal passages in the scriptures have multiple meanings. The Savior affirmed that fact when he told his disciples that the reason he taught the multitude in parables was that this permitted him to teach them “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:11) while not revealing those mysteries to the multitude. His parables had multiple meanings or applications according to the spiritual maturity of the listener. They had a message for both children and gospel scholars.”
    This is an absolutely stunning theological position. Here, President Oaks is teaching us that we and our Church leaders can and should use the scriptures as a Urim and Thummim. Thus, it is not only possible that new, inspired interpretations of the scriptures will come from our leaders when they teach, we should expect it. Thus, it does not matter if, in a statement, a Church leader is using the scriptures as they may have been originally given and understood by those present at the time, or whether a new interpretation of the scriptures is coming to us through a Church leader via revelation. As it says in Doctrine and Covenants 68:4: “And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.”

  4. I published the essay in Interpreter entitled: “The Parable of the Benevolent Father and Son” (Matthew R. Linford, “The Parable of the Benevolent Father and Son” Interpreter. A Journal of Mormon Scripture. 22 (2016): 149 – 178.), which is a commentary on the Parable of the Prodigal Son and related scriptures. Feedback from various individuals on this essay have prompted this belated response. This is Part 1 of my response.
    In particular, a person named Lanny Landrith has taken issue with part of my interpretation of the parable, contrasting at least one of the points I made in the essay to statements given by President Spencer W. Kimball and other Church leaders from that time (See, for example, Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness (Deseret Book Co., 1969), and “However Faint the Light May Glow,” October 1982 General Conference, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1982/10/however-faint-the-light-may-glow). To the best of my understanding, here is a summary of some of the key points of these interpretations:
    We should emulate the older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. His steadiness and obedience, and that fact that he stayed with the father, are most commendable. As a reward for his righteousness and for always keeping the commandments, he will gain eternal life. As evidence for this, the father said: “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine”. The prodigal son committed serious sin. He will not receive the same reward as his brother. He squandered his inheritance in riotous living. He may be back in his father’s house at the end of the parable, but he is in a lower capacity than his brother.
    The interpretation I gave in my essay, which was strongly influenced by the scholar Kenneth Bailey, is as follows:
    The older son represents the scribes and Pharisees, while the younger son represents the publicans and sinners. Both the older son and his prodigal brother are problematic individuals – the older son fails in his familial duties and mistreats his father and brother, while the younger son breaks his father’s heart. While the younger son does waste his inheritance, he may or may not have committed serious sin. Both sons need divine assistance. The father bears the shame and sins of both of them as he tries to bring them into his home. The reinstatement and perhaps even exaltation of the prodigal son is made clear by what the father does for him – he embraces him (highly symbolic), brings him into his house (a church, temple, or God’s kingdom?), clothes him with a robe and shoes (symbolic of the temple?), puts a ring on his hand (the priesthood?), feeds him (the sacrament?) etc. The older son’s salvation is pending at the end of the parable – while offered all that the Father has, he has not yet made the choice to come into His house – he remains outside arguing with his father. When this parable is interpreted in this manner, there are close parallels between it and other important stories in the scriptures, including Lehi’s dream. Compared to what it signifies to us, the phrase “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine” may have meant something quite different to those that originally heard it – those people saw the world through the lens of Middle Eastern culture. They did not have Doctrine and Covenants 84. Interestingly, Kenneth Bailey makes essentially nothing out of this phrase that is so significant for Latter-day Saints.
    I wish to make it very clear at this point that these are two very different interpretations. Lanny Landrith and I are not talking here about more or less the same thing viewed in slightly different lights. The first interpretation holds up the older son as heroic and the younger as a sinner. The second casts the older brother in a much darker light and suggests that salvation has preferentially come to his younger brother.
    At first blush, it may seem like there is little hope of reconciling these two views. But I’d like to give it a shot. To do so, I would like to remind us of an article by President Oaks in the January, 1995 Ensign entitled: “Scripture Reading and Revelation”. Here are some of the things that he wrote:

  5. I will repeat part of Elder Spencer W. Kimball’s quote about “Coming to himself”:
    Eder Spencer W. Kimball explained:
    “He [the prodigal son] admitted rather than confessed his broken covenants. And what a difference between admission and confession! He acknowledged his unworthiness but said not a word about changing from unrighteousness to purity through a reformed life. “Coming to himself” seems to be more a realization of his physical plight, his hunger pangs and his unemployment, than a true repentance. Is there here any reference to new goals, a transformed life, escalating ideals and attitudes? He talked about bread of the oven rather than the “bread of life” the water of the well rather than the “Living Water.” He said nothing about filling a crown with jewels of righteous accomplishments, but made much of filling a stomach which was shriveled by near starvation.
    Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 307–311.
    Then you may raise the question, “Why would celebrate the return of a prodigal son if he had NOT fully repented?” If we had a son or daughter who had acted like the prodigal son with “riotous living” and had learned that “riotous living” “never was happiness,” and came home, we would be thrilled at their coming home, at their giving up their “riotous living.” That would NOT mean that our son or daughter would have fully repented. But we would be thrilled at whatever degree of repentance the prodigal son or daughter showed even if the son or daughter did not show a full repentance. What do I mean by a full repentance? Does the returning son or daughter want to go on a mission, pay his tithing, be a home teacher or a visiting teacher, accept other callings in the ward? Just because a person finally learns that “riotous living” ultimately results in misery, that doesn’t mean that the person wants to go on a mission, pay his tithing, be a home teacher or a visiting teacher, accept callings in the ward.

  6. The key phrase in the parable is the first sentence in verse 17 wherein is stated: “and when he came to himself…”. This is such a simple phrase that I had read numerous times previously but never understood I thought of who I am, the son of 2 fathers. He knew at once his birth father loved and would forgive him. Do we know as children of God that he will love and forgive us so that we turn back toward him (that is the definition of repentance) and return home to our father.

  7. Amen to that Lanny – What a wonderful invitation for us all to enter into the feast and rejoice with the Father. Kudos to Brother Linford for his amazing essay.

  8. K. Allred, actually I mostly agree with you about the older son. If the older son didn’t repent of his attitude, then the older son would lose ” thou art ever with me and all that I have is thine.” I think that the reason the older son is not always appreciated, is the failure to recognize how huge a test it is to have your good, constant efforts go unappreciated. We often talk – as we should – of the Savior’s incredible sacrifice in Gethsemane. But we don’t mention the Savior’s huge test on the cross when so many failed to show any appreciation for the Savior’s having just gone through the greatest test in history. In fact, the Savior had passed 2 incredible, unique tests: Gethsemane and having lived a perfect, sinless life. Wow! Thus, the Savior had passed two tests that NO other mortal had passed or would pass. Not only did most of those standing near the Savior’s cross not show any appreciation, but also many – e.g. the Roman soldiers – even mocked the Savior. Thus, I personally had concluded that the Savior’s statement “Forgive them [the Roman soldiers], for they know not what they do” was the most incredible statement ever made. Initially I thought that my view of that statement was merely my own personal opinion. Then Elder Spencer W. Kimball made the same observation that the Savior’s statement “Forgive them [the Roman soldiers], for they know not what they do” was the most incredible statement ever made.
    The Savior’s atonement was least appreciated by leaders (Pharisees) of His own Church. The leaders of his own Church pushed for Him to be crucified. Thus, I think the Savior’s not being appreciated for the greatest service in history, was also a huge test – not as huge as Gethsemane or as living a perfect life – but still huge.
    How many people have you seen embittered because they felt unappreciated? To spend time with an elderly friend, my wife and I went to his club (the Studebaker Car Club) breakfast meetings on the first Saturday of every month. On one Saturday, elections for club officers were being held. One man who had been club treasurer, ANGRILY said that he wasn’t a candidate for treasurer this time because “NOBODY HAS EVER THANKED ME FOR MY WORK AS TREASURER. “
    I admire a branch president of a care center in Provo where he has served for more than 5 years. Why? It’s a thankless job because the patients at the care center are generally elderly people whose clarity of mind is usually gone, whose main comments are criticisms of things not being done as they think things should be done. Previous branch presidents were grateful and relieved when released after the customary 3 years of thankless service. But this branch president has never requested to be released but continues to serve. Every bishop in this church has been criticized by some ward members, but every bishop – unlike this branch president – has also been praised by ward members.
    The older son in the parable of the Prodigal Son had been faithful for YEARS AND YEARS. On the return of his prodigal brother the prodigal brother gets more attention than the faithful son had ever received. Initially the older son failed this huge test of feeling unappreciated. And if he had continued to fail this huge test, yes, I agree with you, K. Allread, that if the older son didn’t repent of his attitude, then the older son would lose ” thou art ever with me and all that I have is thine.” But it’s interesting that the father in the parable offers very little chastisement of his older son but merely reminds the older son, “”thou art ever with me and all that I have is thine.” Thus Elder Spencer W. Kimball says of the older son:
    “But the other brother, who had been faithful, loyal, righteous and constant, retained his inheritance, and the father reassured him: “All that I have is thine.” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 307–311)
    I agree with Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s similar assessment of the older son:
    “We may suppose that the elder son, accustomed as he was to obeying the will of his father, then went in to the feast, welcomed his wayward brother in a compassionate manner, and rejoiced along with the father.” (Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Volume I, pages 436, 437)

  9. Interesting comments Lanny, I will have to give some thought as to whether the prodigal had “fully” repented. As to the older brother – the promise that ” thou art ever with me and all that I have is thine,” is in jeopardy due to his stubborn refusal to welcome his brother back into the family, perhaps judging him not “fully” repentant – a judgment best left to the Father. His refusal to enter into the feast resembles those who invited guests who refuse to attend the wedding feast. The older brother’s lack of acceptance reminds us of Jonah’s refusal to accept the repentance of Nineveh, and very much resembles those Pharisees.

  10. I enjoyed the comments in reply to my comment. In the article the elder son is compared to the Pharisees despite the parable’s stressing “Son, thou art ever with me and all that I have is thine,” according to both Elder Spencer W. Kimball and Elder Bruce R. McConkie. Thus, the elder son is NOT to be likened unto the prodigal son. Can you imagine the father saying that to the elder son if the elder son was like the Pharisees, whom the Savior called:
    27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. (Matthew 23: 27)
    Even if the phrase ““Son, thou art ever with me and all that I have is thine,” does not suggest eternal life – as one commenter said – can you imagine the father saying that phrase (whatever it means) to his son if his son were a “hypocrite” and a “whited sepulchre”? There is NO way that the elder son could receive such a phrase if he were a “hypocrite” and a “whited sepulchre.” Can you imagine that phrase (whatever it means) following Matthew 23: 27? No way.
    I agree with the ideas that the story of the elder son may have had special relevance to the Pharisees, who would have pictured themselves like unto the elder son. Thus, the Savior would have been saying to the Pharisees, “Even if you were as righteous as the elder son [which you’re not], then you still need to welcome the sinner.” This interpretation is similar to that of Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
    “As to the immediate application of the parable, we may suppose that the Pharisees and scribes saw themselves as the elder son, laboriously attending to the affairs of the kingdom and refusing to fellowship a repentant publican or a returned sinner. Actually, of course, the murmuring religionists were far from that course of good works entitling them to the high Status of sons in the Father’s eternal household.” (Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Volume I, pages 436, 437)
    This interpretation is consistent with the quote of Joseph Smith that was quoted in one of the comments:
    While Jesus was teaching the people, all the publicans and sinners drew near to hear Him; “and the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying: This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” This is the keyword which unlocks the parable of the prodigal son. It was given to answer the murmurings and questions of the Sadducees and Pharisees, who were querying, finding fault, and saying, “How is it that this man as great as He pretends to be, eats with publicans and sinners?” Jesus was not put to it so, but He could have found something to illustrate His subject, if He had designed if for nation or nations; but He did not. It was for men in an individual capacity; and all straining on this point is a bubble. “This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.”
    In other words, even if the Pharisees were as righteous as the elder son – which they’re not – they should welcome the prodigal son home.
    I agree that the atonement has full power to redeem sinners – which we all are – to the fullest degree of glory IF, IF, IF we FULLY repent (with the stress being on “FULLY”). The parable of the Prodigal Son suggests that the Prodigal Son had NOT fully repented, ss Elder Spencer W. Kimball explained:
    “He [the prodigal son] admitted rather than confessed his broken covenants. And what a difference between admission and confession! He acknowledged his unworthiness but said not a word about changing from unrighteousness to purity through a reformed life. “Coming to himself” seems to be more a realization of his physical plight, his hunger pangs and his unemployment, than a true repentance. Is there here any reference to new goals, a transformed life, escalating ideals and attitudes? He talked about bread of the oven rather than the “bread of life” the water of the well rather than the “Living Water.” He said nothing about filling a crown with jewels of righteous accomplishments, but made much of filling a stomach which was shriveled by near starvation.
    Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 307–311.
    Then you may raise the question, “Why would celebrate the return of a prodigal son if he had NOT fully repented?” If we had a son or daughter who had acted like the prodigal son with “riotous living” and had learned that “riotous living” “never was happiness,” and came home, we would be thrilled at their coming home, at their giving up their “riotous living.” That would NOT mean that our son or daughter would have fully repented. But we would be thrilled at whatever degree of repentance the prodigal son or daughter showed even if the son or daughter did not show a full repentance. What do I mean by a full repentance? Does the returning son or daughter want to go on a mission, pay his tithing, be a home teacher or a visiting teacher, accept other callings in the ward? Just because a person finally learns that “riotous living” ultimately results in misery, that doesn’t mean that the person wants to go on a mission, pay his tithing, be a home teacher or a visiting teacher, accept callings in the ward.
    One of the points of the parable of the Prodigal Son – perhaps, the main point – is that we are ALWAYS to welcome sinners to our homes and wards even if they have NOT fully repented and especially if they have NOT fully repented. Elder Kimball once said that, perhaps, there should be signs on our chapels saying, “Smokers welcome.” Notice that he didn’t say,, “smoking welcome.” But we all being sinners, it is great to know that we all are always welcome in the Lord’s chapel. And we are to celebrate whatever degree of repentance a person shows even if it’s not a full repentance.

  11. So, to Lanny’s comment, is that the hope we give to those who, like the prodigal have strayed and sinned and now have come back? Do we tell them it is “everlastingly too late”? Does the Lord say;”neither his efforts nor his tears could retrieve his lost blessings”? Is that the forgiveness (and restoration) that the Lord offers to those who repent? Are you saying to those who sin and then repent that they “may come back through repentance to salvation” but only to “be servants, not to inherit exaltation as sons.”?
    That does not seem to be what the Father is demonstrating in the parable. He goes to great effort – dressing the son in his robe, placing his ring upon his finger, placing shoes on his feet, all symbolic gestures showing that his son was restored to his previous place in the family. That is the meaning of restoration.

  12. We might also profitably examine Joseph Smith’s treatment of the parable.

    The Parables of Jesus and the Interpretation of the Scriptures
    Section Five 1842-43, p.276
    In reference to the prodigal son, I said it was a subject I had never dwelt upon; that it was understood by many to be one of the intricate subjects of thescriptures; and even the Elders of this Church have preached largely upon it, without having any rule of interpretation. What is the rule of interpretation? Just no interpretation at all. Understand it precisely as it reads. I have a key by which I understand the scriptures. I enquire, what was the question which drew out the answer, or caused Jesus to utter the parable? It is not national; it does not refer to Abraham, Israel or the Gentiles, in a national capacity, as some suppose. To ascertain its meaning, we must dig up the root and ascertain what it was that drew the saying out of Jesus.
    Section Five 1842-43, p.277
    While Jesus was teaching the people, all the publicans and sinners drew near to hear Him; “and the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying: This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” This is the keyword which unlocks the parable of the prodigal son. It was given to answer the murmurings and questions of the Sadducees and Pharisees, who were querying, finding fault, and saying, “How is it that this man as great as He pretends to be, eats with publicans and sinners?” Jesus was not put to it so, but He could have found something to illustrate His subject, if He had designed if for nation or nations; but He did not. It was for men in an individual capacity; and all straining on this point is a bubble. “This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.”
    Section Five 1842-43, p.277
    And he spake this parable unto them–“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them doth not leave the ninety-and-nine in thewilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety-and-nine just persons which need no repentance.” Thehundred sheep represent one hundred Sadducees and Pharisees are in the sheepfold, I have no mission for you; I am sent to look up sheep that are lost; and when I have found them, I will back them up and make joy in heaven.” This represents hunting after a few individuals, or one poor publican, which the Pharisees and Sadducees despised.
    Section Five 1842-43, p.277
    He also gave them the parable of the woman and her ten pieces of silver, and how she lost one, and searching diligently, found it again, which gave more joy among the friends and neighbors than the nine which were not lost; like I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety-and-nine just persons that are so righteous; they will be damned anyhow; you cannot save them. (Jan. 29, 1843.) DHC 5:260-262.

    The elder son is, indeed, representative of the Scribes and Pharisees who indeed are in control of all their Father’s substance. The fun begins when we seek to liken this parable unto ourselves.

  13. I really enjoyed this article about God’s grace: His love for us. There is one part of the article, however, that I think is very wrong: the part about the older brother. The author has a poor explanation as to why the father tells his older son, ““Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine” (v. 31). This is NOT the statement that the Savior (the father figure) would give to someone whom the author suggests was symbolic of the Pharisees:
    In particular, in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the father represents Jesus, the older son represents the scribes and Pharisees, and the prodigal son represents the publicans and sinners. In this parable we see Jesus point out to the leaders in Israel how they (the older son) had repeatedly shirked their duty in the church and to their fellow man. The older son’s claim never to have broken any of his father’s commandments appears to echo the repeated claim of the scribes and Pharisees that they rigorously followed the law. And of course we should be skeptical of any who claim never to have sinned (see 1 John 1:8). Indeed, it is ironic that in the very act of proclaiming his flawlessness, the older son is acting against the will of the father and sinning.
    The Savior described the Pharisees as follows:
    Matthew 23: 23 – 33:
    23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
    24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
    25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
    26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
    27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
    28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
    29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
    30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
    31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
    32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
    33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
    Wow! What a condemnation of the Pharisees! “Hypocrites!” is the name that Jesus calls the Pharisees 5 times – 5 TIMES – in 11 verses. Have you ever heard anyone else referred to as “…whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Wow! “Whited sepulchres.” Not even Groucho Marx and Don Rickles could come up with a greater insult than that. Not even the Pharisees themselves could come up with a greater insult than that.
    How could the older son possibly be symbolic of the Pharisees when his father tells him, ““Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine” (v. 31).
    Can you read Matthew 23: 23 – 33 and imagine even for one second the Savior saying to the Pharisees, ““Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine” (v. 31). Impossible!!
    Here is how Church President Spencer W. Kimball interpreted the Parable of the Prodigal Son:
    Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 307–311.
    The one who delights in all of the worldly luxuries of today, at the expense of spirituality, is living but for the moment. His day is now. He will be barred from the rewards of the higher life he rejected.
    In the impressive parable of the Prodigal Son the Lord taught us a remarkable lesson. This squanderer lived but for today. He spent his life in riotous living. He disregarded the commandments of God. His inheritance was expendable, and he spent it. He was never to enjoy it again, as it was irretrievably gone. No quantity of tears or regrets or remorse could bring it back. Even though his father forgave him and dined him and clothed him and kissed him, he could not give back to the profligate son that which had been dissipated. But the other brother, who had been faithful, loyal, righteous and constant, retained his inheritance, and the father reassured him: “All that I have is thine.”

    The son admitted his prodigality: “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” He did not ask for servant status as he had thought to do, perhaps because with such a warm welcome he may have had hopes of total reinstatement; for the happy father spread over him the best robe, put a ring on his hand and shoes On his feet, and killed the fatted calf to celebrate the great occasion as he expressed his joy in these words: “For this my son was dead, and is alive again: he was lost, and is found.”
    The elder son, On returning from his work in the field, was angered at the display Of lavish festivities for the brother who had wasted his all with harlots, and he complained to his father, who entreated him to join the party:
    … Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.
    To this the father might have said something like this: “Son, this is your estate — all of it. Everything is yours. Your brother has squandered his part. You have everything. He has nothing but employment and Our forgiveness and Our love. We can well afford to receive him graciously. We will not give him, your estate nor can we give him back all that he has foolishly squandered.” He did say: “For this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. . .” And he said also: “Son, thou art ever with me and all that I have is thine.”
    Is there not significance in that statement of the father? Does not that signify eternal life?
    When I was a child in Sunday School my teacher impressed upon me the contemptibility of the older son in his anger and complaining, while she immortalized the adulterous prodigal who was presumed to have expressed repentance. But let no reader compare grumbling and peevishness with the degrading sins of immorality and consorting with harlots in riotous living. John mentioned, “There is a sin unto death,” and the younger son’s transgressions might approach that terrifying condition if he did not repent and turn from his evil course.
    This superb parable contains many lessons which relate to the material in this book. It teaches the importance of remaining pure and undefiled and retaining virtue and righteousness; and it teaches the heavy penalties of transgression. It emphasizes the principle of repentance as a means of forgiveness and recovery of self. It teaches the ugliness of pride, jealousy, peevishness, lack of understanding, and anger; and it stresses the glorious and ultimate blessings which are available to the worthy, even though they may exhibit some minor weaknesses.
    The prodigal son certainly had every opportunity to enjoy permanently a full and valuable estate with resultant comforts, joys, harmony and peace. He had security. All was available to him until he left the path and dissipated his fortune, hating his birthright. He had demanded from his father, “… the portion of goods that falleth to me.” He took it “all” into a far country, and there, pressed by the demands of a carnal world, wasted his substance with riotous living. He spent “all” of his estate and was relegated to penury and hunger.
    He admitted rather than confessed his broken covenants. And what a difference between admission and confession! He acknowledged his unworthiness but said not a word about changing from unrighteousness to purity through a reformed life. “Coming to himself” seems to be more a realization of his physical plight, his hunger pangs and his unemployment, than a true repentance. Is there here any reference to new goals, a transformed life, escalating ideals and attitudes? He talked about bread of the oven rather than the “bread of life” the water of the well rather than the “Living Water.” He said nothing about filling a crown with jewels of righteous accomplishments, but made much of filling a stomach which was shriveled by near starvation.
    The older son’s being ever with his father is significant. If this parable is a reminder of life’s journey, we remember that for the faithful who live the commandments there is a great promise of seeing the Lord and being with him always in exaltation. On the other hand, the younger son could hope for no more than salvation as a servant, since he “despised his birthright,” and dissipated “all” of his inheritance, leaving nothing to develop and accumulate toward eternal heirship again. He had sold it for a mess of pottage as did Esau, another prodigal.
    He had sold something he could not recover. He had exchanged the priceless inheritance of great lasting value for a temporary satisfaction of physical desire, the future for the present, eternity for time, spiritual blessings for physical meat. Though he was sorry for his rash trade, it was now so late, “everlastingly too late.” Apparently neither his efforts nor his tears could retrieve his lost blessings. Thus God will forgive the repentant sinner who sins against divine law, but that forgiveness can never restore the losses he sustained during the period of his sinning.
    END OF ELDER SPENCER W. KIMBALL’S QUOTE.
    Elder Featherstone, in addressing the October 1982 general conference, said, “The father had planned all along to reward the older brother by giving him everything, but this was the first time this had been mentioned. The father said, `It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.’ (Luke 15:32.)
    “A minister recently read the parable of the prodigal son over the radio. He concluded with: `The younger brother stood justified before the Lord due to his repentance, and the older brother fell under the greater condemnation.’
    “When I heard this,” said Elder Featherstone, “I wept and thought, `Oh, you foolish man. You do not understand the Lord’s teachings.’ The older son had been hurt and neglected and, true, had not exercised love and compassion to his wayward brother; but no thinking man could ever suppose that his transgression compared to the wasteful, extravagant, riotous living with harlots of the younger brother.
    “I think I have an understanding of what the Lord was trying to teach in this beautiful parable which extends hope to all. The Savior is standing with open arms to receive and forgive all who will come unto Him. His atoning and redemptive suffering in Gethsemane and on Golgotha’s hill are the greatest acts of love ever performed.”
    In Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Volume I, pages 436, 437, Elder McConnkie comments on the Parable of the Prodigal Son as follows:
    In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father is God who endows all his children with talents, capacities, powers, and agency — all according to their needs and situations, all subject to the divine decree that they shall keep his commandments and use their inheritances wisely.
    One son is faithful and true to every covenant, obligation, and trust put upon him. He keeps the commandments, labors diligently in his Father’s field, and lays up a rich spiritual harvest for himself and his Father. The other offspring is overcome by the world, squanders his inheritance in gratifying the lusts of the flesh, and soon finds himself in a state of degenerate despondency. Finally, humbled by adversity, remembering that even his Father’s hired servants fare better than he, the wayward son manifests penitence, turns to God, and seeks such surcease from suffering and sorrow as a just and merciful Father can bestow.
    That the faithful son, being yet mortal and not knowing all the designs and purposes of God, should feel impulsive jealousy and anger at the seeming inequity of the honor heaped on the prodigal, is not difficult to understand. But then comes the explanation: ‘Thy brother
    437
    has returned to serve me in such capacity as he is able. Be glad that he is no longer wholly lost. But as for thee: Thou art my heir. Thou hast been faithful over a few things and I will make thee ruler over many. Thou hast overcome and shall “sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Rev. 3:21.) “Ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one.” (3 Ne. 28:10.) “Thou are ever with me, and all that I have is thine.”‘ (D. & C. 84:38.)
    We may suppose that the elder son, accustomed as he was to obeying the will of his father, then went in to the feast, welcomed his wayward brother in a compassionate manner, and rejoiced along with the father because the spiritually dead was born again, because he who was lost to the kingdom had been reclaimed.
    But we need not suppose that the two sons were thereafter equal in power, honor, or dominion. The inheritance of one was already wasted. As President Joseph Fielding Smith has written, “There is rejoicing in heaven over every sinner who repents; but those who are faithful and transgress not any of the commandments, shall inherit ‘all that the father hath,’ while those who might be sons, but through their ‘riotous living’ waste their inheritance, may come back through repentance to salvation to be servants, not to inherit exaltation as sons.”
    (Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, pp. 21-22.)
    As to the immediate application of the parable, we may suppose that the Pharisees and scribes saw themselves as the elder son, laboriously attending to the affairs of the kingdom and refusing to fellowship a repentant publican or a returned sinner. Actually, of course, the murmuring religionists were far from that course of good works entitling them to the high Status of sons in the Father’s eternal household. [end of Elder McConkie’s comment].

    • I too was surprised by the author’s interpretation of the older son. But I’m not convinced by your quoting prophets and their differing interpretations; they may well have agreed with the author if they had had access to greater knowledge of the culture in which the parable took place.
      And although the phrase “you are always with me and all I have is thine” in other contexts does refer to salvation, I just don’t think you can read it that way in this particular parable. It’s clear that the older brother is being reprimanded for his behavior, and that the parable is given to show that his attitude is the wrong, Pharisaical one. I appreciate Mr. Linford offering new (to me) information about how to appreciate that easily-misinterpreted phrase so the parable makes more sense as a whole.

  14. I cannot help but be amazed at the great insight, thoughtful perusal, and wonderful perspective that some people have, concerning the ofttimes overlooked meanings and implications of the parables and stories we have in our scriptures.
    I’m thankful for people like Bro. Linford who have taken the time and effort to carefully dissect and explain some of the less obvious characteristics, and common threads, and wonderful parallels, that these parables and stories have for us.
    If we all would follow the counsel of our prophets, seers, and revelators, and read and reread our scriptures more often, I think we too would be able to glean and capture the meaning and special messages they hold for each of us.

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