When I first watched the advert below I wondered what it was about and where on earth it was going.
I have to admit I didn’t see the end coming. Some adverts are a bit like Jesus’s parables. They unfold like short stories, and some of them pack an unexpected punch, or have a twist in the tale. Jesus drew on Old Testament stories for his tales of the unexpected, which meant that his audience thought they knew where he was going, but then got a surprise as he added a new layer, an extra twist. In Proverbs chapter 9 verses 1-5 we find a portrait of a wise woman throwing a lavish feast. She has the best food and wine and invites everyone to come and take part in her life-giving banquet. Jesus knew this story and probably drew on it for his parable in Luke 14 vv 16-20. His listeners would have been familiar with it too. So when he began talking of a king throwing a feast with fine wines and good food, they would have thought, this is our feast, this is the banquet for us. However, there’s a sting in the tale. Instead of happily turning up the invited guests make frankly embarrassing excuses. It seems they do not want to come.
In Genesis 18 verses 22-33, wealthy Abraham wrestles with God. He is a powerful hero of the faith, but in Jesus’s shocking story, in Luke 18, a poor, powerless widow wrestles with God, someone on the very margins of life. If she can wrestle honestly then surely we’re all invited.
Jesus’s most famous story, about two sons, and the younger rebelling against his father, is based on the real life story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob tricked his father into giving him his brother’s birthright, then took off and left. Whilst away he became very wealthy, got married and had lots of children. On his way home he met God, received a name change, and returned as Israel. So when Jesus begins his tale of two sons and a father, they would have immediately thought, ‘This is about Israel, this our story!’ However, Jesus’s prodigal does not return wealthy and married with children. He is poor, ashamed and has only slept with prostitutes. Plus he stinks to high heaven. The crowd would have stood there aghast, their jaws on the floor. What was Jesus inferring? The returning son in this terrible state? What was he saying about them? But there is a further twist. The father makes himself look foolish, does what no self-respecting dad would ever do. He leaps over the garden gate and runs like mad down the lane toward his lost boy. In broad daylight. Preposterous! Like the Queen jumping out of a helicopter with James Bond.
The father cannot contain his love, he doesn’t mind the boy’s bad smell, he doesn’t care about making himself look small. He wants to forgive him and welcome him back into the family. When Jacob returned his brother Esau forgave him. But, in a further twist, the prodigal’s older brother is hard-hearted and judgemental. What was that about? Who were the older brothers in Jesus’s audience?