Luke 15: 1-32

I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: a study of each Greek word of the gospel passage, followed by an analysis of the structure of the narrative and its context, to which is added a comparison of parallel or similar passages. At the end of this analysis and as a conclusion, I propose to summarize what the evangelist meant, and I end up with some suggestions on how this Gospel could shed light on our current situation.


  1. Translation of the Greek text
  2. Analysis of each verse
  3. Structure analysis
  4. Context analysis
  5. Analysis of paralles
  6. Intention of the author when writing this passage
  7. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

 


  1. Translation of the Greek text (28th edition of Kurt Aland)

    Greek textTransliterated Greek textLiteral translationTranslation in current language
    1 Ἦσαν δὲ αὐτῷ ἐγγίζοντες πάντες οἱ τελῶναι καὶ οἱ ἁμαρτωλοὶ ἀκούειν αὐτοῦ.1 Ēsan de autō engizontes pantes hoi telōnai kai hoi hamartōloi akouein autou.1 Then they were drawing near him all the tax collectors and the sinners to hear him,1 Now all the customs officers and the led astray had begun to frequent Jesus to listen to him.
    2 καὶ διεγόγγυζον οἵ τε Φαρισαῖοι καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς λέγοντες ὅτι οὗτος ἁμαρτωλοὺς προσδέχεται καὶ συνεσθίει αὐτοῖς.2 kai diegongyzon hoi te Pharisaioi kai hoi grammateis legontes hoti houtos hamartōlous prosdechetai kai synesthiei autois.2 and they were grumbling both the Pharisees and the scribes saying that this (guy) receives sinners and he eats with them. 2 But the Pharisees as well as the Bible scholars grumbled, complaining that he was opening his arms to the wanderers and eating with them.
    3 Εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτοὺς τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην λέγων.3 Eipen de pros autous tēn parabolēn tautēn legōn• 3 Then, he said towards them this parable saying,3 Then Jesus told them this story from life:
    4 τίς ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ὑμῶν ἔχων ἑκατὸν πρόβατα καὶ ἀπολέσας ἐξ αὐτῶν ἓν οὐ καταλείπει τὰ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ καὶ πορεύεται ἐπὶ τὸ ἀπολωλὸς ἕως εὕρῃ αὐτό;4 tis anthrōpos ex hymōn echōn hekaton probata kai apolesas ex autōn hen ou kataleipei ta enenēkonta ennea en tē erēmō kai poreuetai epi to apolōlos heōs heurē auto? 4 What man out of you having hundred sheep and having lost one out of them does not leave the ninety nine in the wilderness and goes upon the having been lost until he would find it?4 "If anyone among you had a hundred sheep and lost one of them, would he not leave the ninety-nine in a desert place and go to the one who was lost as long as he had not found it?
    5 καὶ εὑρὼν ἐπιτίθησιν ἐπὶ τοὺς ὤμους αὐτοῦ χαίρων5 kai heurōn epitithēsin epi tous ōmous autou chairōn 5 And having found, he lays upon the shoulders of him rejoicing,5 When he has found it, he puts it on his shoulders with joy.
    6 καὶ ἐλθὼν εἰς τὸν οἶκον συγκαλεῖ τοὺς φίλους καὶ τοὺς γείτονας λέγων αὐτοῖς• συγχάρητέ μοι, ὅτι εὗρον τὸ πρόβατόν μου τὸ ἀπολωλός.6 kai elthōn eis ton oikon synkalei tous philous kai tous geitonas legōn autois• syncharēte moi, hoti heuron to probaton mou to apolōlos. 6 and having come into the house he calls together the friends and the neighbors saying to them, rejoice with me for I have found the sheep of me the having been lost.6 When he returns home, he calls friends and neighbors, saying, "Come and rejoice with me, for I have found the sheep I lost."
    7 λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὕτως χαρὰ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ ἔσται ἐπὶ ἑνὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ μετανοοῦντι ἢ ἐπὶ ἐνενήκοντα ἐννέα δικαίοις οἵτινες οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν μετανοίας7 legō hymin hoti houtōs chara en tō ouranō estai epi heni hamartōlō metanoounti ē epi enenēkonta ennea dikaiois hoitines ou chreian echousin metanoias.7 I say to you that in the same way there will be joy in the heaven upon one sinner repenting rather than upon ninety nine righteous who do not have need for repentance.7 It is in the same way, I tell you, that there will be joy with God for a single deviant who reorients his life, as for ninety-nine blameless people who do not need to reorient their lives.
    8 Ἢ τίς γυνὴ δραχμὰς ἔχουσα δέκα ἐὰν ἀπολέσῃ δραχμὴν μίαν, οὐχὶ ἅπτει λύχνον καὶ σαροῖ τὴν οἰκίαν καὶ ζητεῖ ἐπιμελῶς ἕως οὗ εὕρῃ;8 Ē tis gynē drachmas echousa deka ean apolesē drachmēn mian, ouchi haptei lychnon kai saroi tēn oikian kai zētei epimelōs heōs hou eurē? 8 Or what woman having ten drachmas, if she would lose one drachma, does she not light a lamp and sweeps the house and seeks carefully until she would have found it?8 Another story. What woman, having the equivalent of ten days' wages and losing the equivalent of a single day's wages, would not light a lamp and sweep the house to search carefully until she found it?
    9 καὶ εὑροῦσα συγκαλεῖ τὰς φίλας καὶ γείτονας λέγουσα• συγχάρητέ μοι, ὅτι εὗρον τὴν δραχμὴν ἣν ἀπώλεσα.9 kai heurousa synkalei tas philas kai geitonas legousa• syncharēte moi, hoti heuron tēn drachmēn hēn apōlesa. 9 And having found, she calls together the friends and neighbors saying, rejoice with me for I have found the drachma that I lost.9 And after she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors, saying, "Come and rejoice with me, for I have found the money equivalent to a day's wages that I had lost."
    10 οὕτως, λέγω ὑμῖν, γίνεται χαρὰ ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀγγέλων τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπὶ ἑνὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ μετανοοῦντι.10 houtōs, legō hymin, ginetai chara enōpion tōn angelōn tou theou epi heni hamartōlō metanoounti.10 In the same way I say to you, joy happens before the angels of the God upon one sinner repenting.10 It is in the same way, I tell you, that there is joy among people in relationship with God for a single deviant who reorients his life."
    11 Εἶπεν δέ• ἄνθρωπός τις εἶχεν δύο υἱούς.11 Eipen de• anthrōpos tis eichen dyo huious. 11 Then he said a certain man was having two sons11 Jesus adds another story. "There was a man with two sons.
    12 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ νεώτερος αὐτῶν τῷ πατρί• πάτερ, δός μοι τὸ ἐπιβάλλον μέρος τῆς οὐσίας. ὁ δὲ διεῖλεν αὐτοῖς τὸν βίον.12 kai eipen ho neōteros autōn tō patri• pater, dos moi to epiballon meros tēs ousias. ho de dieilen autois ton bion. 12 and the younger of them said to the father, Father give to me the share falling upon (me) of the property. Then, him, he divided to them the livelihood.12 The youngest said to his father, 'Dad, give me the portion of inheritance that is due to me from what you have'. Then the father shares his property.
    13 καὶ μετʼ οὐ πολλὰς ἡμέρας συναγαγὼν πάντα ὁ νεώτερος υἱὸς ἀπεδήμησεν εἰς χώραν μακρὰν καὶ ἐκεῖ διεσκόρπισεν τὴν οὐσίαν αὐτοῦ ζῶν ἀσώτως.13 kai met’ ou pollas hēmeras synagagōn panta ho neōteros huios apedēmēsen eis chōran makran kai ekei dieskorpisen tēn ousian autou zōn asōtōs. 13 And after not many days, having gathered together all, the younger son went abroad on a journey into country distant and there he squandered the estate of him living recklessly.13 And without waiting a long time, his bags packed, the younger went on a journey to a distant country. And it was there that he wasted what he possessed by leading a dissolute life.
    14 δαπανήσαντος δὲ αὐτοῦ πάντα ἐγένετο λιμὸς ἰσχυρὰ κατὰ τὴν χώραν ἐκείνην, καὶ αὐτὸς ἤρξατο ὑστερεῖσθαι.14 dapanēsantos de autou panta egeneto limos ischyra kata tēn chōran ekeinēn, kai autos ērxato hystereisthai.14 Then, having spent of him all, strong famine happened against that country and himself began to be in need.14 After having exhausted everything, it happened that there was a great scarcity in the country where he was, so that he began to experience poverty.
    15 καὶ πορευθεὶς ἐκολλήθη ἑνὶ τῶν πολιτῶν τῆς χώρας ἐκείνης, καὶ ἔπεμψεν αὐτὸν εἰς τοὺς ἀγροὺς αὐτοῦ βόσκειν χοίρους,15 kai poreutheis ekollēthē heni tōn politōn tēs chōras ekeinēs, kai epempsen auton eis tous agrous autou boskein choirous, 15 And having gone, he joined himself to one of the citizens of that country and he sent him into the fields of him to feed pigs.15 Reacting, he offered his services to a citizen of the region, who sent him to the fields to take care of the pigs.
    16 καὶ ἐπεθύμει χορτασθῆναι ἐκ τῶν κερατίων ὧν ἤσθιον οἱ χοῖροι, καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐδίδου αὐτῷ16 kai epethymei chortasthēnai ek tōn keratiōn hōn ēsthion hoi choiroi, kai oudeis edidou autō. 16 And he was longing to be satisfied out of the carob pods that the pigs were eating and no one was giving to him.16 Oh! As he would have liked to eat the carobs devoured by the pigs, but no one gave it to him.
    17 εἰς ἑαυτὸν δὲ ἐλθὼν ἔφη• πόσοι μίσθιοι τοῦ πατρός μου περισσεύονται ἄρτων, ἐγὼ δὲ λιμῷ ὧδε ἀπόλλυμαι.17 eis heauton de elthōn ephē• posoi misthioi tou patros mou perisseuontai artōn, egō de limō hōde apollymai. 17 Then, into himself having come, he was saying, how many hired servants of the father of me have abundance breads, then, I, here I perish of hunger.17 After stepping back to reflect, he said to himself, 'How many of my father's employees have all the bread they want, while I'm starving'.
    18 ἀναστὰς πορεύσομαι πρὸς τὸν πατέρα μου καὶ ἐρῶ αὐτῷ• πάτερ, ἥμαρτον εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ ἐνώπιόν σου,18 anastas poreusomai pros ton patera mou kai erō autō• pater, hēmarton eis ton ouranon kai enōpion sou,18 Having risen up I will go towards the father of me and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned into the heaven and before you,18 So I'll get up to go to my father, and I'll say, 'Dad, I have sinned against God and against you,
    19 οὐκέτι εἰμὶ ἄξιος κληθῆναι υἱός σου• ποίησόν με ὡς ἕνα τῶν μισθίων σου.19 ouketi eimi axios klēthēnai huios sou• poiēson me hōs hena tōn misthiōn sou. 19 no longer I am worthy to be called son of you. Make me like one of the hired servants of you.19 and I have no right to be your son, but hire me as one of your servants'.
    20 καὶ ἀναστὰς ἦλθεν πρὸς τὸν πατέρα ἑαυτοῦ. Ἔτι δὲ αὐτοῦ μακρὰν ἀπέχοντος εἶδεν αὐτὸν ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐσπλαγχνίσθη καὶ δραμὼν ἐπέπεσεν ἐπὶ τὸν τράχηλον αὐτοῦ καὶ κατεφίλησεν αὐτόν.20 kai anastas ēlthen pros ton patera heautou. Eti de autou makran apechontos eiden auton ho patēr autou kai esplanchnisthē kai dramōn epepesen epi ton trachēlon autou kai katephilēsen auton. 20 And having risen up he went towards the father of himself. Then, yet himself being distant by far, the father of him saw him and was moved with compassion and, having run, he fell upon the neck of him and kissed him. 20 Then he gets up to go to his father. But as he is still far away, his father sees him at a distance and is upset to the very heart. He immediately runs to him and throws himself on his neck to kiss him.
    21 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ υἱὸς αὐτῷ• πάτερ, ἥμαρτον εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ ἐνώπιόν σου, οὐκέτι εἰμὶ ἄξιος κληθῆναι υἱός σου.21 eipen de ho huios autō• pater, hēmarton eis ton ouranon kai enōpion sou, ouketi eimi axios klēthēnai huios sou. 21 Then, he said the son of him, Father, I have sinned into the heaven and before you. No longer I am worthy to be called son of you.21 And the son said to him, 'Dad, I have sinned against God and against you, I have no right to be called your son'.
    22 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ πατὴρ πρὸς τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ• ταχὺ ἐξενέγκατε στολὴν τὴν πρώτην καὶ ἐνδύσατε αὐτόν, καὶ δότε δακτύλιον εἰς τὴν χεῖρα αὐτοῦ καὶ ὑποδήματα εἰς τοὺς πόδας,22 eipen de ho patēr pros tous doulous autou• tachy exenenkate stolēn tēn prōtēn kai endysate auton, kai dote daktylion eis tēn cheira autou kai hypodēmata eis tous podas,22 Then the father said towards the servants of him, quickly bring out the first robe and clothe him and give ring into the hand of him and sandals into his feet. 22 Immediately the father speaks to his servants to ask them, 'Quickly, bring the most beautiful coat to put on, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his foot.
    23 καὶ φέρετε τὸν μόσχον τὸν σιτευτόν, θύσατε, καὶ φαγόντες εὐφρανθῶμεν,23 kai pherete ton moschon ton siteuton, thysate, kai phagontes euphranthōmen, 23 Bring the calf the fattened, kill, and having eaten, we would be merry. 23 Bring the calf also being fattened, cut it down, and party with a banquet:
    24 ὅτι οὗτος ὁ υἱός μου νεκρὸς ἦν καὶ ἀνέζησεν, ἦν ἀπολωλὼς καὶ εὑρέθηX καὶ ἤρξαντο εὐφραίνεσθαι.24 hoti houtos ho huios mou nekros ēn kai anezēsen, ēn apolōlōs kai heurethē. kai ērxanto euphrainesthai. 24 For this son of me was dead and has lived again, he was has been lost, and was found, and they began to be merry.24 For this son was dead, he is now alive, he was lost, he is now found'. And they started to celebrate.
    25 ῏Ην δὲ ὁ υἱὸς αὐτοῦ ὁ πρεσβύτερος ἐν ἀγρῷ• καὶ ὡς ἐρχόμενος ἤγγισεν τῇ οἰκίᾳ, ἤκουσεν συμφωνίας καὶ χορῶν,25 Ēn de ho huios autou ho presbyteros en agrō• kai hōs erchomenos ēngisen tē oikia, ēkousen symphōnias kai chorōn, 25 Then, the son of him, the elder, was in field and as (he) was coming, he drew near to the house; he heard music and dance.25 But the eldest son was still in the field. As he approached the house, he heard the music and the dance steps.
    26 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος ἕνα τῶν παίδων ἐπυνθάνετο τί ἂν εἴη ταῦτα.26 kai proskalesamenos hena tōn paidōn epynthaneto ti an eiē tauta.26 And having summoned one of the young boys he was inquiring what perchance might be these (things).26 So he calls one of the service boys to inquire about what was going on.
    27 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὅτι ὁ ἀδελφός σου ἥκει, καὶ ἔθυσεν ὁ πατήρ σου τὸν μόσχον τὸν σιτευτόν, ὅτι ὑγιαίνοντα αὐτὸν ἀπέλαβεν.27 ho de eipen autō hoti ho adelphos sou hēkei, kai ethysen ho patēr sou ton moschon ton siteuton, hoti hygiainonta auton apelaben. 27 Then, him, he said to him that the brother of you has come and the father of you has killed the calf the fattened for he has received him being healthy.27 They told him that his brother had come home, and that the father had slaughtered the calf that was being fattened, because he had found him in good health.
    28 ὠργίσθη δὲ καὶ οὐκ ἤθελεν εἰσελθεῖν, ὁ δὲ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ ἐξελθὼν παρεκάλει αὐτόν.28 ōrgisthē de kai ouk ēthelen eiselthein, ho de patēr autou exelthōn parekalei auton. 28 Then, he was angry and was not willing to enter. Then the father of him having come out, he was begging him 28 At that moment he became angry and did not even want to enter. Then the father went out to pray to him.
    29 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν τῷ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ• ἰδοὺ τοσαῦτα ἔτη δουλεύω σοι καὶ οὐδέποτε ἐντολήν σου παρῆλθον, καὶ ἐμοὶ οὐδέποτε ἔδωκας ἔριφον ἵνα μετὰ τῶν φίλων μου εὐφρανθῶ•.29 ho de apokritheis eipen tō patri autou• idou tosauta etē douleuō soi kai oudepote entolēn sou parēlthon, kai emoi oudepote edōkas eriphon hina meta tōn philōn mou euphranthō• 29 Then, him, having answered, he said to the father of him, behold so many years I am serving you and never commandment of you I passed by, and you never gave me a young goat in order to I might make merry with the friends of me. 29 The eldest said this to his father: 'It has been so long since I am at your service and I have never disobeyed your rules, and yet you have never bothered to give me even a worthless thing like a male goat to celebrate with my friends
    30 ὅτε δὲ ὁ υἱός σου οὗτος ὁ καταφαγών σου τὸν βίον μετὰ πορνῶν ἦλθεν, ἔθυσας αὐτῷ τὸν σιτευτὸν μόσχον.30 hote de ho huios sou houtos ho kataphagōn sou ton bion meta pornōn ēlthen, ethysas autō ton siteuton moschon. 30 Then, when the son of you that one came (back), the having devoured of you the livelihood with prostitutes, you have killed for him the fattened calf.30 On the other hand, when your son is here, who comes back from having devoured all your possessions with the whores, you have taken the trouble to slaughter the fattened calf'.
    31 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ• τέκνον, σὺ πάντοτε μετʼ ἐμοῦ εἶ, καὶ πάντα τὰ ἐμὰ σά ἐστιν•.31 ho de eipen autō• teknon, sy pantote met’ emou ei, kai panta ta ema sa estin• 31 Then, him, he said to him, child, you are always with me and all the mine is yours.31 The father answered him, 'My child, you are still with me, and you know that what is mine is also yours.
    32 εὐφρανθῆναι δὲ καὶ χαρῆναι ἔδει, ὅτι ὁ ἀδελφός σου οὗτος νεκρὸς ἦν καὶ ἔζησεν, καὶ ἀπολωλὼς καὶ εὑρέθη.32 euphranthēnai de kai charēnai edei, hoti ho adelphos sou houtos nekros ēn kai ezēsen, kai apolōlōs kai heurethē.32 Then, it was necessary to make merry and to rejoice for this brother of you was dead and has lived again and he has been lost and has been found.32 But it was necessary to celebrate and rejoice that your brother, who was dead, had returned to life, who was lost, has been found.' "

  1. Analysis of each verse

    v. 1 Now all the customs officers and the led astray had begun to frequent Jesus to listen to him.

    Literally: Then they were drawing near (engizontes) him all (pantes) the tax collectors (telōnai) and the sinners (hamartōloi) to hear (akouein) him,

engizontes (drawing near)
Verb engizō means: to draw near, to be close to. Even though it is a word he takes from Mark when he speaks of the Kingdom of God drawing near (10:9) or of Jesus drawing near to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives (19:29), he uses it frequently in all sorts of ways (Mt = 7; Mk = 3; Lk = 18; Jn = 0; Acts = 6) to describe the proximity of a city or an event, and in this case, the human proximity that makes it possible to establish a relationship: either Jesus takes the initiative (15:1; 18:40; 24:15) or others (15:1; 22:47). We have translated engizō as "to frequent" to convey the idea that to get close to someone means to open oneself up to his or her thoughts and establish an ongoing relationship.

pantes (all)

Just note that the Greek word pas (all) is used frequently by Luke: (Mt = 129; Mk = 67; Lk = 159; Jn = 65; Acts = 172), and thus a total of 331 for his entire gospel and Acts. This is a way for him to emphasize the unanimity of the people and the popularity of Jesus.

telōnai (tax collectors)
We have translated telōnēs (publican, customs collector, tax collector) as customs officer, because the Greek word is derived from telos (tax), and in the context of Galilee it probably referred to the people who handled the toll in that border area. Obviously, these people were frowned upon, as they were considered collaborators with the Roman occupier, and their work opened the possibility of abuse.

Now, these badly seen people are presented by the three synoptic gospels (Mt = 6; Mk = 1; Lk = 7; Jn = 0; Acts = 0) as people who went to Jesus to listen to him (Lk 15:1) and even to share his table (Mk 2:15; Mt 9:10), just as they went to listen to John the Baptist (Lk 3:12; 7:29; Mt 21:32), and that finally one of them became a disciple of Jesus (Levi according to Lk 5:27, Matthew according to Mt 10:3). But it is Luke who gives us the most positive picture with this account of the prayer of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk 18:10), while the Jew Matthew does not hesitate to use them as an example of what not to be: For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Do not the tax collectors themselves do the same? (5:46); And if he refuses to listen to them, tell the community. And if he refuses to listen even to the community, let him be to you as the Gentile and the tax collector (18: 17). In this, Luke consistently continues the work of his gospel of rehabilitating and valuing the poor, the marginalized, the people who are frowned upon like the shepherds or people without social status like the women.

hamartōloi (sinners)
As for the word sinner (hamartōlos), it has a long biblical history, for it appears just about everywhere in the Old Testament. A typical evocation is given to us by Psalm 51:15: To sinners (ḥaṭṭāʾ) I will teach your ways; to you shall the lost (pšʿ). In the gospels, Luke is the one who tells us most about the sinner: (Mt = 5; Mk = 6; Lk = 18; Jn = 4). But what meaning should we give to this word and how to translate it? For never in this 21st century would it occur to us to call a group of people "sinners". It is no longer part of our vocabulary. Let's go back to the etymology of the word. First, in Hebrew, the root ḥṭʾ means first: to neglect, to fail, to be at fault (see Jean l'Hour, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique, Paris-Montreal: Bayard-Médiaspaul, 2004, p. 148). The general idea is that one has missed the target one was aiming for, so that the sinner is someone who has put himself or herself at odds with someone, and thus is at odds with that person. In the classical Greek world, while the verb to sin (hamartanō) evokes missing the goal or target, and thus making a mistake and committing an error, the word "sinner" would only appear later in the pen of Aristotle, where it refers to someone who makes a mistake or goes the wrong way (see André Myre, Nouveau Vocabulaire Biblique, p. 391). To complete this picture, it must be remembered that the ancient world is one in which the community predominates over the individual. Thus, someone who deviates from the community rules is a sinner. And since we are in a world where the social and religious dimensions are merged, someone who deviates from the common rules becomes someone who is at odds with God, a transgressor, a rebel, a deviant, an outlaw, a pervert, a misguided person, a marginal, an infidel, a renegade, all of which are synonymous with sinner. The various translations of the Bible happily draw on this vocabulary. Personally, I have opted for the word "led astray", because on the one hand it keeps the idea of someone who deviates and goes astray, and on the other hand it carries a pejorative connotation. The point here is that, according to Luke, Jesus is not afraid of these people, and even has a certain fascination for them.

When we look in more detail at what the gospels say about the sinner, we notice this.

  • The gospel according to Mark set the ball rolling with the tax collector/sinner pairing (Mk 2:15-16), which Matthew takes up and expands with the Q Document (Mt 9:10-11; 11:19), as does Luke (Lk 5:30; 7:34; 15:1-2); all of these passages insist that Jesus was close to them, that he shared a table with them, that he welcomed them with open arms, which triggered the anger of some, especially the Pharisees.

  • But Luke goes further by identifying a sinful tax collector, Zacchaeus, whom he describes as the chief customs officer who was very rich (19:2). Had he become dishonestly rich? The account merely mentions that Zacchaeus promises to pay back fourfold if he ever extorted anyone. For his profession allowed him to do exactions. But the fact that he belongs to the group of sinners is clear: He went to lodge with a sinful man, it is whispered (19:7).

  • Another sinful customs officer appears in Luke's parable where a Pharisee and a customs officer go up to the temple to pray (18:10-14); it is the customs officer who recognizes himself as a sinner. It is difficult to know whether it was the very nature of his work that led him to consider himself a sinner. In any case, it is possible that for Luke the setting of the temple and the truth of a righteous heart leads one to be sensitive to the distance between the holiness of God and the fragile state of a man. This is at least what seems to be suggested by another passage in Luke where Peter, after the miraculous catch, seen as a divine intervention, cries out: "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man" (5:8).

  • Luke introduces another sinner, or rather a woman-sinner, into his story as she enters a Pharisee's house to touch Jesus as he eats and pours perfume on him (7:36-50). Her name is not known, but the Pharisee's reaction suggests that she may have been a prostitute.

  • Despite Luke's sympathetic presentation of all these sinners, the fact remains that they are not exemplary people to be imitated as such: That if you love those who love you, what thanks will you get? For even sinners love those who love them (see Lk 6:32-34).

  • There is even more. It is the sinners who are responsible for his death, as affirmed by these words that Mark puts in the mouth of Jesus: Now you can sleep and rest. It is done. The hour has come: behold, the Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of sinners (14:41; see also Mt 26:45 and Lk 24:7). And Mark also puts this judgment on the world in Jesus' mouth: this adulterous and sinful generation (8:38).

  • But then, why did Jesus make himself close to these people when they are not to be imitated, when they will be responsible for his death? Mark was the first to say so by putting this phrase into Jesus' mouth: It is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. (2:17) This is the same idea echoed in Matthew 9:13 and Luke 5:32 (the same idea underlies Lk 15:7.10)

  • What about the evangelist John? His four mentions of the word "sinner" are in chap. 9 where Jesus is given the epithet "sinner"; in the whole gospel, he is the only one who is considered a sinner.

What to conclude? We have said that the term sinner was attributed to people who were in violation of the socio-religious rules. We must not have a hippy mentality and believe that this was an ideal to imitate. On this point Luke is very clear: as much as Jesus knew how to get close to them and arouse their fascination, he also wanted to introduce them to a change of life, which he calls repentance. He gives examples: Zacchaeus gave half of his fortune, the "sinner" of Lk 7:36 probably left her old life behind. One should not look at them with a romantic perspective. But the message is very clear: you cannot reach them if you do not get close to them and understand them from the inside.

akouein (to hear)
As for the verb akouō (to hear, to listen, to learn, to understand), which Luke likes very much (Mt = 57; Mk = 41; Lk = 57; Jn = 54; Acts = 89) with a total of 131 for the whole of the gospel and Acts, it refers above all (70% of the time) to the reception of the word of Jesus and to his actions, or to the wonders wrought by God. Moreover, on 7 occasions the expression "Word" or "Word of God" is associated with it (see for example 8: 15.21; 10: 39; 11: 28). It is in this sense that we must read this word here.

Verb akouō in the Gospels-Acts
v. 2 But the Pharisees as well as the Bible scholars grumbled, complaining that he was opening his arms to the wanderers and eating with them.

Literally: and they were grumbling (diegongyzon) both (te) the Pharisees (Pharisaioi) but also (kai) the scribes (grammateis) saying that this (guy) receives (prosdechetai) sinners and he eats (synesthiei) with them.

diegongyzon (they were grumbling)
With diagonguzō (whisper, grumble, growl, complain), we have a word unique to Luke in the entire New Testament: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. Luke must have been inspired by the Greek Old Testament, where the word appears a few times, especially to describe the Jewish people's reaction of dissatisfaction with Moses because of the difficulties of the desert experience, such as the lack of water and food (Ex 15:14; 16:2.7.8). Elsewhere in his gospel, people grumble because he went to eat at the home of the sinner Zacchaeus (19:7). Thus, this verb is used to describe an attitude of dissatisfaction and incomprehension in front of a shocking situation. If we were to look for a contemporary parallel, we would have to speak of a person who is well regarded in the religious world inviting himself to the home of a homosexual couple with children.

te... kai (both... and also)
The only reason to emphasize this expression is to point out that we have here Luke's signature: Mt = 3; Mk = 0; Lk = 6; Jn = 3; Acts = 148 (a total of 154 for the whole of the Gospel and Acts). Luke has marked this introduction to the parables with his own style.
Pharisaioi (Pharisees)
On the Pharisees, reference is made to the study by J.P. Meier. Recall that the frequency of Jesus' disputes with the Pharisees is more a reflection of the conflicts experienced with them by the early Christian communities, even though it is clear that Jesus had disputes with them, especially over the interpretation of the Mosaic law where the Pharisees referred to their own oral tradition. What interests us here is the very definition of the word "Pharisee" which may come from the Aramaic: perûsîm, which means "the separated ones", i.e. those who are not like the others. Luke gives us a picture of this in this prayer scene in the temple when the Pharisee says: My God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men, who are rapacious, unjust, adulterous, or even like this customs officer (18:11). One can imagine that the Pharisees' zeal and passion in studying and practicing the Mosaic law zealously and meticulously led them to distance themselves from some of their compatriots, but also to come into conflict with Jesus who proposed a different interpretation of the same law.

If we turn to Luke, we observe that he takes up a number of Mark's disputes, such as ritual impurity at meals (5:30), forbidden actions on the Sabbath (6:2), the relativization of fasting (6:2), as well as those in the Q Document, for example the thoroughness in tithing (11:42) or in purifying what is used for eating (11:39). But he also presents us with a portrait of his own: Mt = 29; Mk = 12; Lk = 27; Jn = 20; Acts = 9. First of all, on several occasions he gives us a positive picture of the Pharisees: on three occasions Jesus is invited to eat by a Pharisee (7:36; 11:37; 14:1), and he even notes that Pharisees and teachers of the Law had come from all the villages of Galilee, Judea and Jerusalem to hear his teaching (5:17). This should not be surprising, for his Acts of the Apostles presents us with Pharisees who were favorable to the Christians, such as Gamaliel (5:34), and even states that several Pharisees became Christians (15:5), the most notable of whom is Paul of Tarsus. Moreover, the Pharisees shared with Jesus a number of points: the election of Israel, the importance of fulfilling the requirements of the law with all one's heart, God's promise of his messiah and the resurrection of the dead accompanied by the final judgment.

On the other hand, Luke has his own litany of reproaches against the Pharisees: their pride and their need for public honors (11:43), their love of money (16:14), their claim to perfection and to be apart from others (18:11). It is in this context that we must read the three parables of the gospel, because it will allow us to understand the change of mindset to which the Pharisees are invited.

grammateis (scribes)
The Greek words grammateus (scribe, clerk, secretary), gramma (letter, character, writing, sign of the alphabet) and graphō (to write, to trace letters, to compose, to record in writing) share the same root. That's why grammateus is translated as: scribe, because it refers to one who has a well-defined social function of reading and writing in a world where the majority of people cannot read or write. Personally, I like to translate the word by "Bible scholar", because the Bible was the main object through which one learned to read, and its primary purpose. Moreover, when we observe their interventions in the gospels, we notice that they intend to debate particular points of Scripture, like this echo in Mark where they taught that Elijah must come before the messiah (9: 11), that the messiah is the son of David (12: 35), and that God is unique (12: 32). So the question arises: how can we distinguish the Pharisees from the scribes? Some scribes belonged to the group of Pharisees, but not all Pharisees were scribes. We find in Luke the expression "the Pharisees and their scribes" (5:21) as he clarifies the expression "the scribes of the Pharisees" from Mark 2:16. It is even clearer in Acts with the phrase: Some scribes of the party of the Pharisees rose up (23:9). Thus, the title of scribe expressed a social role, while that of Pharisee expressed membership in a political-religious group. It was probably with the scribes, the biblical scholars, that Jesus had some disagreements about the interpretation of certain passages in the Bible.

The multiplication of the presence of the Pharisees alongside the scribes in the gospels is above all the work of the Christian community of decades later in direct conflict with them. This seems to be confirmed by the evolution of the writing of the gospels: while Mark, which we date to about the year 67, mentions the scribes 20 times, he has only three times the scribes-Pharisees couple, and each time in connection with the problem of dietary rules (2: 16; 7: 1.5), while the scribes appear alone 9 times (apart from the Pharisees, they are associated 8 times with the chief priests). Thus, the scribes are much more numerous than the Pharisees. On the other hand, Matthew, which is dated around 80 or 85, out of 21 mentions, has the scribes-Pharisees couple 10 times. Finally, in John, which we date around the year 90, the word scribe appears only once and with the scribes-pharisees couple, on the other hand the word Pharisee appears 20 times. We can see that the Pharisees have grown with time.

And Luke in all this, whose gospel would have been written at about the same time as Matthew's? Here, he would be halfway between Mark and Matthew with 5 times the scribes-pharisees couple. It is possible that his gospel was written a little before Matthew's. Here is the complete table of the various expressions. The first two rows show the number of occurrences of the words scribes and Pharisees, and the others their combinations or non-combinations:

ExpressionMarkLukeMatthewJohnActs
The word scribe20142114
The word Pharisee122729209
Scribe-Pharisee pair351011
Scribes alone92500
Pharisees alone41912148
Scribes with the high priests87500
Scribes with the elders00002
Other types of scribes (Christian or Greek)00101

In short, historically speaking, Jesus' discussions about the interpretation of scripture were primarily with the scribes, especially if we refer to Galilee (the Pharisees were mostly in Jerusalem). Although Jesus probably had conflicts with the Pharisees, these conflicts became more important at the time of the Christian community. Luke, here in this introduction to the three parables, probably finds it important to have both the scribes or biblical scholars, reflecting the many debates Jesus had with them, but also the Pharisees, because they were the ones who were offended by Jesus' promiscuity with deviants and all those actions that did not respect the rules of ritual purity.

prosdechetai (he receives)
The Greek verb prosdechomai means: to welcome someone, to receive favorably, to accept, to wait for. It is a thoroughly Lucan word: Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk = 5; Jn = 0; Acts = 2, which apart from our verse here denotes the expectation of the messiah (2:15), of salvation (2:38), of the return of the master (12:36), of the kingdom of God (23:51). It therefore expresses a tension or an impulse towards someone. Jesus wants this relationship with the wayward, those who were called sinners; so I opted for the translation: he opened his arms to them.

synesthiei (he eats)
Luke has not invented anything here and takes up much of Mark's language of manducation: Mt = 24; Mk = 27; Lk = 32; Jn = 15; Acts = 7; but he gives it a wider scope.

  1. In fact, in several cases Luke simply takes up the question already raised in Mark about why Jesus ate with sinners (5:30), or why his disciples ate ears of corn plucked on the Sabbath (6:4), or Jesus' concern to alleviate the hunger of others, for example Jairus' daughter whom he had just raised (8:55), or the crowd in Bethsaida to whom he preached, or his initiative to have a last meal with them (22:8.11). From the Q Document, he takes up Jesus' reputation for being a glutton and drunkard, unlike John the Baptist (7:33-34), and especially the warning against worrying about food (12:22.29) and the temptation to party while forgetting his responsibility to prepare for the coming of God's reign (12:45).

  2. But in other cases, he introduces the verb to eat on his own, first to clarify Mark's texts on fasting by specifying that it concerns drinking and eating (4:2; 5:33), or the text on the crumpling of the ears of corn by specifying that the purpose was to eat them (6:1).

What is especially noteworthy is that the act of eating occupies a greater place in him, because it appears to be the heart of any relationship: Jesus repeatedly accepts invitations to eat (7:36; 14:1), and Luke makes explicit the meaning of Jesus' last meal with his disciples (I longed to eat (esthiō) this passover with you before I suffered: 22:15), and eating will be part of life in the kingdom of God (22:30; see also 14:15). It is in such a context that we must read Jesus' decision of being close to the deviates, and later, the decision of the father who has just found his son, and all this may appear shocking.

v. 3 Then Jesus told them this story from life:

Literally: Then, he said towards them this parable (parabolēn) saying,

parabolēn (parable)
The Greek word parabolē means: comparison, juxtaposition, illustration, analogy. Basically, one wants to explain or clarify a situation or an event by bringing them closer to another well-known situation or event, so that one ends up with the couple: as well as... so. In English, to explain a situation, we would say: "it's like..." Like a good leader, Jesus seems to have mastered the art of the parable to communicate well. Since very often his point of comparison is a rather detailed story, and a story that is plausible in the Palestinian context, I have opted for the translation: story from life. Unfortunately, over time, two tendencies have arisen:

  1. first, the allegorization of the parables, i.e. the different elements of the parable have taken on a symbolic value (e.g., the seed becomes the word of God, the roadside where the seed fell becomes Satan, the stony places where the seed fell become distress and persecution, the brambles become the worries of the world, whereas the original point of Jesus' parable was simply to illustrate his faith in the success of his mission despite the appearance of failure; see Mark 4:14-20 in this explanation of the parable of the sower, which is most likely the work of the Christian community, not of Jesus)

  2. then, with allegorization, the tendency to become obscure and enigmatic, so that speaking in parables becomes synonymous with an enigmatic language, as opposed to a clear language. This is the paradox: the parable, which was intended as a way of illuminating a situation, has become an obscure language. This is already noted in Mark, who puts in the mouth of Jesus this word: And he said to them, To you the mystery of the kingdom of God has been given; but to those who are outside all things come in parables (4: 11), and who presents us with disciples who had to ask Jesus to give an explanation of the parable: and he did not speak to them without a parable, but, in particular, he explained everything to his disciples (4: 34).

Of course, since Luke depends on Mark, he takes over much of his material, including the expression "parable". But there is an effort to move away from the association of parables with enigmatic language: with one exception (8:10), where he copies Mark's text, he eliminates the expression "speaking in parables" which is often found in Mark (3:23; 4:2.11; 12:1). If we eliminate the exception of 8:10, the word parable is always in the singular, because it refers to a specific story or illustration. And his parable needs no explanation, it is self-evident. This is what we note in this story that we are commenting on.

Finally, note that Luke likes to warn us that what follows is a parable: like Mark (2:21) about sewing a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, Luke takes the trouble to add that it is a parable (5:36), or, like the Q Document about a blind man who cannot guide another blind man, Luke takes pains to add that it is a parable (6:39). And here, before the three stories we are analyzing, he takes the trouble to say that it is a parable.

v. 4 "If anyone among you had a hundred sheep and lost one of them, would he not leave the ninety-nine in a desert place and go to the one who was lost as long as he had not found it?

Literally: What (tis) man out (ex) of you (hymōn) having hundred (hekaton) sheep (probata) and having lost (apolesas) one out of them does not leave (kataleipei) the ninety nine (enenēkonta ennea) in the wilderness (erēmō) and goes (poreuetai) upon the having been lost (apolōlos) until he would find (heurē) it?

tis ex hymōn (what man out of you)
It is worth noting the Greek expression: tis ex hymōn (who among you). For it constitutes an questioning style, where the audience is forced to take a stand. The expression is found elsewhere in the gospels: Mt = 3; Mk = 0; Lk = 6; Jn = 1. Could this art of communication not have its source in the historical Jesus? Even if the expression appears most often in Luke's writings, he probably did not create it from scratch for the following criteria: the multiplle sources (it is found in the Q Document, in John and in his own particular source), and the criterion of coherence with the charismatic preacher that Jesus probably was, referring to everyday life. To this we might add the case where Luke presents a similar expression without feeling the need to edit it to bring it into line with the others, which would have been the case if he had introduced tis ex hymōn. Let's give more details.

  • Lk 11:5 (Luke's own source): He said to them again, "If one of you (tis ex hymōn), having a friend, go to him in the middle of the night, and say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves
  • Lk 11:11 (Q Document) Who among you (tis ex hymōn) is a father from whom his son shall ask for a fish, and instead of the fish he shall give him a serpent?
  • Lk 12:25 (Q Document) Who among you (tis ex hymōn) moreover can, by worrying about it, add a cubit to the length of his life?
  • Lk 14:28 (Luke's particular source) For who of you (tis ex hymōn), if he would build a tower, does not first sit down to calculate the expense and see if he has enough to go all the way?
  • Lk 15:4 (part from Q Document, but without any questioning) Which of you (tis ex hymōn), if he has a hundred sheep and comes to lose one of them, does not forsake the other 89 in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost, until he has found it?
  • Lk 17:7 (Luke's particular source) Who among you (tis ex hymōn), if he has a servant plowing or tending cattle, will say to him when he returns from the field, "Quick, come and sit at the table?
  • Mt 6:27 (Q Document): Who among you (tis ex hymōn) moreover can, with concern, add a single cubit to the length of his life?
  • Mt 7:9 (Q Document): Which of you (tis ex hymōn) is the man from whom his son shall ask bread, and he shall give him a stone?
  • Mt 12:11 (Q Document): But he said to them, "Which of you (tis ex hymōn) shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a hole on the Sabbath day, go not and take it up and raise it up?
  • Jn 8:46: Which of you (tis ex hymōn) will convince me of sin? If I speak the truth, why do you not believe me?

To this we can add the similar expression:

  1. Lk 14:5 (Q Document; see Mt 12:11): Then he said to them, "Which of you (tis hymōn), if his son or his ox should fall into a well, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?"

In short, facing his audience who misunderstood his attitude, Jesus told them: "Look, you would have done the same thing".

hekaton (hundred)
The number one hundred does not seem to play any particular role, except as a generic round number to illustrate a rather large number: Mt = 4; Mk = 3; Lk = 3; Jn = 1; Acts = 0. For example, Luke mentions a debt of a hundred barrels of oil or a hundred measures of wheat (16:6-7), Mark speaks of the seed that produces a hundred to one (4:8), or John mentions 100 liters of myrrh and aloes brought by Nicodemus for the embalming of Jesus (19:39). Amusingly, Luke does not seem to appreciate the detail of numbers very much, since he replaces Mark's numbers in the parable of the seed (and they produced one 30, one 60, one hundred) with a generic expression: hundredfold (8:8), and eliminated any number in the explanation of the parable (8:15); similarly, in his retelling of Mark's feeding of the crowd scene, he eliminated the organization of the crowd into squares of one hundred and fifty (Mk 6:40 || Lk 9:10; this is also done by Matthew, for this organization must have seemed incomprehensible). The number 100 in our account here comes from the Q Document, for it also occurs in Matthew's similar account (18:12). He intends to refer to a large number of sheep.

probata (sheep)
Luke is not keen referring to sheep: Mt = 11; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 19; Acts = 1. Even adding lambs (arēn) and goats (eriphos), the statistics change little: Mt = 12; Mk = 2; Lk = 4; Jn = 19; Acts = 1. Of the four mentions, three come from the Q Document, and the fourth belongs to our parable when the older son reproaches his father for not even sacrificing a goat for him. What to conclude? On the one hand, Luke's environment is in all probability that of the city (perhaps Corinth in Greece, see my text: Where was Luke's gospel written?), and the image of the shepherd and his sheep had little interest, as it might have in Jesus' Palestine; this reinforces the idea that Luke did not invent this parable. On the other hand, the image of the shepherd and his sheep has great significance for the Old Testament and the Jewish world. Let us recall some of them.

  • The prophet Ezekiel reproaches the Jewish leaders for having allowed the sheep to be scattered and for not having sought out those who went astray, so that from now on it is Yahweh himself who will look after his flock, especially through the enterprise of his servant who will resemble David (Ezek 34)
  • It is the same message that Jeremiah sends (Jer 23:1-4)
  • Finally, the prophet Micah speaks for Yahweh, promising to bring back the sheep that have strayed (Micah 4:6-7)

In short, Luke knew the Old Testament well, and in taking up what he received from the Q tradition, he must have understood that this shepherd promised by Yahweh to gather the lost was in fact Jesus himself.

apolesas (having lost)
The verb apollymi which is usually translated as "perish" has two meanings: 1) to lose a possession; 2) to destroy or die or eliminate physically or symbolically. It is a well-known word in the gospels: Mt = 18; Mk = 10; Lk = 27; Jn = 9; Acts = 2. Even if its frequency is higher in Luke, this does not make it a word that belongs to the Lucan style. For in half the cases, the word comes from Mark or the Q Document. Moreover, the set of three parables we analyze uses it seven times. On other occasions, this word is a way for him to tone down the overly crude language he receives from his source (see 6:9 where perish replaces the "kill" of Mk 3:4; see 11:51 where perish replaces "murder" of Mt 18:35), in keeping with his habit of avoiding overly brutal situations or words. In short, we probably have here the vocabulary he received from his source, and in the context of the flock of sheep, we are in a situation where a shepherd has lost his sheep.

kataleipei (he leaves)
The verb kataleipō (to leave, to depart, to forsake) is not very frequent: Mt = 4; Mk = 4; Lk = 4; Jn = 0; Acts = 4. Very often, it concerns people who are left or abandoned. In Luke, it is Levi who leaves everything (5:28), Martha who complains of being left alone (10:40), and in a scene taken from Mark, seven husbands die without leaving any children (20:31). And of course there is our parable where the shepherd leaves his sheep. It is a simple word in which we should not look for a technical or theological meaning. We don't know which verb was part of the source Q, since in Matthew it is rather the verb aphiēmi (to send away, dismiss, leave out, neglect, omit, hand over, let, leave, forsake) that appears in the equivalent parable, a more frequent word, especially in Matthew: Mt = 48; Mk = 34; Lk = 36; Jn = 15; Acts = 8. It is possible that Luke is here closer to the source.

enenēkonta ennea (ninety nine)
This numeral adjective appears only here in the context of the parable and in the other echo of this story in the Q Document in Matthew: Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 0.

erēmō (wilderness)
The word erēmos (desert, empty, desolate, barren) is used to describe first of all the place where John the Baptist preached, the place where Jesus withdrew after his baptism, the place where he liked to retreat to pray or to protect himself from the crowd. So we must not imagine a sandy place like the Sahara. It is rather an unpopulated, isolated, wild place. It is in such a place that Jesus preaches one day to the crowd and that causes a logistical problem, because the absence of habitation prevents people from being housed and fed for the night (see Lk 9:12). Luke follows the gospels on this point: Mt = 8; Mk = 9; Lk = 10; Jn = 5; Acts = 9. On the other hand, his version of the parable diverges from Matthew's, since the latter speaks not of a desert but of a mountain (Mt 18:12). Which version was the Q Document? Was it Luke or Matthew who changed the place where the sheep went astray? If the parable goes back to Jesus, it is more likely that it referred to a wilderness or desert place, consistent with the topography of Palestine. On the other hand, if tradition is correct in placing the writing of Matthew's gospel in Antioch (the modern city of Antakya in Turkey), then it would be understandable that Matthew would adapt the parable to his audience, for Antioch is surrounded by mountains. In any case, if we look at Luke's version, we must imagine that the flock of sheep was grazing near inhabited places, and that one of them got lost in a wilderness.

Adjective erēmos in the New Testament
poreuetai (he goes)
The verb poreuō (to go, proceed, travel, journey, leave) occupies a large place in Luke's writings (89 times): Mt = 29; Mk = 3; Lk = 52; Jn = 16; Acts = 37. For him, life seems to be a long journey, and it is a Jesus who is on the move that he presents, in particular this long journey which will lead him to Jerusalem (9:51 – 19:28). Yet, as far as the beginning of this parable is concerned, it seems that the Q Document also contained poreō since it is also found in Matthew's version (18:12). To set out in search of someone is demanding, for it compels action, to walk, to journey.

apolōlos (having been lost)
This is the same verb apollymi that we looked at above, but in the perfect participle, and is used as a noun with its article to. Why do we emphasize this? First of all, this form will recur 4 times in this set we are analyzing, and then it will conclude the scene of the customs officer Zacchaeus: For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost (to apolōlos) (Lk 19:10). But it is also found in Matthew twice in the mouth of Jesus:
  • 10:6: Go rather to the lost sheep (ta apolōlota) of the house of Israel.
  • 15:24: I was sent only to the lost sheep (ta apolōlota) of the house of Israel

What to conclude? With "lost sheep" we have the impression of being in front of a rather old expression, which was not created by Luke or Matthew. In fact, it goes back to the Old Testament:

  • Ezekiel 34:4 You have not brought back the one who went astray, sought (zēteō) the one who was lost (to apolōlos). But you ruled them with violence and harshness.
  • Ezekiel 34:16:I will seek (zēteō) her that is lost (to apolōlos), I will bring back her that is lost
  • Jeremiah 50:6:The people of my people were lost sheep (apolōlota).
  • Psalm 119:176:I go astray, lost sheep (apolōlos): come and seek (zēteō) your servant

The image of the lost sheep was part of the Jewish world, and it is easy to imagine that Jesus took up this image and saw his mission in this line.

heurē (he would find)
The verb heuriskō (to find, to encounter, to discover, to notice, to recognize) occupies such a large place in Luke, that one might think we have Luke's signature here: Mt = 27; Mk = 11; Lk = 45; Jn = 11; Acts = 35. However, the same verb is present in Matthew's version (18:13). It may be thought to have been part of the original parable in the Q Document, especially since zēteō (seek) belongs to the Old Testament image as seen above in Ezekiel 34 and Psalm 119. Luke's editing work may have been to eliminate the verb "seek" in the expression found in Matthew (starting out he seeks the lost), finding the verb "seek" redundant with that of "he goes".
v. 5 When he has found it, he puts it on his shoulders with joy.

Literally: And having found, he lays upon (epitithēsin) the shoulders (ōmous) of him rejoicing (chairōn),

epitithēsin (he lays upon)
The verb epitithēmi is a compound word: tithēmi (to put) and epi (upon), hence the translation: to lay upon, to put on, to impose, to inflict, to provide: Mt = 5; Mk = 8; Lk = 4; Jn = 2; Acts = 13. This is not a word that Luke uses much, except in Acts where it mostly refers to the laying on of hands. In his gospel, where the word appears four times, it occurs first in two of his own scenes (the Good Samaritan where the bandits "inflict blows" on the victim (10:30), and the healing of the bent woman on whom Jesus "lays hands" (13:13)), and then in the scene taken from Mark in which Simon of Cyrene is taken on to take care of the cross of Jesus, but which Luke modifies to use the expression "they set upon him" the cross to be carried (23:26), and finally here in our passage. So the question arises: as he did with the scene with Simon of Cyrene, did Luke add the word epitithēmi to the Q Document? We don't think so. For one thing, epitithēmi plays no theological role, and for another, it is hard to see how a man from the city would have bothered to add such a detail in this pastoral scene.

ōmous (shoulders)
In the entire New Testament, this word appears only here and in Matthew 23:4: They bind heavy burdens and impose them (epitithēmi) on the shoulders (ōmos) of the people, but they themselves refuse to move them with their fingers. When we consider the whole Bible, we never find a similar scene where a shepherd puts a sheep on his shoulders. Where does this image come from? From Jesus himself? Perhaps. One may be surprised to see a shepherd forced to carry his sheep in this way. One must imagine that he is too young or too weak to make the journey home, or too lost to find his way back.

chairōn (rejoicing)
Luke's gospel can be described as a gospel of joy. It opens with the theme of joy with the announcement to Mary and the shepherds. On several occasions, the crowd rejoices when they see the wonders that Jesus accomplishes. When we compile the presence of the verb "to rejoice" (chairō) and the noun "joy" (chara), we get the following picture: Mt = 12; Mk = 3; Lk = 20; Jn = 18; Acts = 11. But this joy in the parable was probably present in the original parable, for it is also found in Matthew's version in 18:13 (And if he succeeds in finding her, truly I say to you, he derives more joy from her than from the 99 who have not gone astray).

v. 6 When he returns home, he calls friends and neighbors, saying, "Come and rejoice with me, for I have found the sheep I lost."

Literally: and having come (elthōn) into (eis) the (ton) house (oikon) he calls together (synkalei) the friends (philous) and the neighbors (geitonas) saying to them, rejoice (syncharēte) with me for I have found the sheep of me the having been lost.

elthōn eis ton oikon (having come into the house)
To designate home, the Greek has two words with the same root, but one with the masculine form as here (oikos): Mt = 10; Mk = 13; Lk = 33; Jn = 5; Acts = 25; and the other with the feminine form (oikia): Mt = 25; Mk = 18; Lk = 24; Jn = 5; Acts = 11. As we can see, Luke usually prefers the masculine form, and especially when we add it all up, he often refers to the house. So is it he who wanted the scene of the shepherd finding his sheep to move to the house? For one thing, the expression erchomai eis ton oikon (go to the house) never appears elsewhere under his pen; rather, he will write: enter the house (eiserchomai eis ton oikon : 1: 40), leave for home (aperchomai eis ton oikon : 1: 23), return home (hypostrephō eis ton oikon: 1: 56), go down to the house (katabainō eis oikon: 18: 14). On the other hand, only once will we see under his pen erchomai, but with the feminine form oikia, as he clarifies Mark's text on the raising of Jairus' daughter by saying, Then, having come to the house (erchomai eis tēn oikian :8: 51). Is he doing the same thing here with a scene he would have received? It is difficult to conclude. Scenes at home seem to appeal to Luke when we look at his frequency in his gospel.

synkalei (he calls together)
The verb synkaleō is composed of the preposition syn (with) and the verb kaleō (to call), and is usually translated as: to call together, to summon, to assemble, to gather. It is very rare: Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Acts = 3, but is mostly found under the pen of Luke, as are verbs with syn (with) as a prefix, or followed by syn. In Luke's gospel, the only occurrence outside the text we are analyzing is in 9:1 as Jesus summons the Twelve to send them on a mission. We have nothing decisive to conclude that we would have Luke's work here, rather than the Q Document. But the words have a Lucan flavor.

philous (friends)
We continue here with a word that has a Lucan flavor: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 15; Jn = 6; Acts = 2. Of the 15 occurrences, only one comes from the Q Document (7:34). Most of the time it appears in passages unique to Luke, except for two times when it repeats the Q Document, but inserts the word philos (see 7:6 and 12:4).

geitonas (neighbors)
This word is almost totally absent from the entire New Testament, except for three passages in Luke (two of which are in our set: 14:12; 15:6,9) and one passage in John (in the episode of the blind man born: 9:8): Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 3; Jn = 1; Acts = 0. It is therefore a word that is part of Luke's vocabulary.

syncharēte (rejoice with)
Once again, we have a construction dear to Luke with a verb (chairō: to rejoice) preceded by syn (with). And it will come as no surprise to learn that he is the only one to use this word in the gospels (elsewhere it is found only under the pen of Paul: 1 Cor 12:26; 13:6; Phil 2:17,18): Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. At the beginning of his gospel, Luke has this phrase: The people around and her (Elizabeth's) relatives heard that the Lord had shown mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her (synchairō) (1: 58). Thus, the arguments accumulate for seeing the entire verse as having thoroughly Lucan features, not a Q Document element.

Let's say a word in closing about the structure of a verb in the imperative, followed by the explanatory conjunction hoti, as we have here: enjoy together (imperative)... because (hoti). This is a construction we encounter a number of times in the gospels: Mt = 10; Mk = 1; Lk = 9; Jn = 1; Acts = 3. Luke likes it, because he takes the liberty of correcting a passage he receives from Mark: Send them (imperative) so that they (hina) go to the farms and villages around (Mk 6:36), replacing it with: Send them (imperative) away, so that they (hoti) may go to the surrounding villages and farms (9:12). This construction is always his work, except for one time when it is simply taken from the Q Document (12: 40). So we can say two things: the construction is very Lucanian, but it also appears in the Q Document.

Verb synchairō in the Bible
v. 7 It is in the same way, I tell you, that there will be joy with God for a single deviant who reorients his life, as for ninety-nine blameless people who do not need to reorient their lives.

Literally: I say to you (legō hymin) that in the same way (houtōs) there will be joy (chara) in the heaven (ouranō) upon one sinner repenting (metanoounti) rather than upon ninety nine righteous (dikaiois) who do not have need for repentance (metanoias).

legō hymin (I say to you)
The expression legō hymin (I say to you) in its plural form, or legō soi (I say to you) in its singular form is very frequent in all the gospels: Mt = 48; Mk = 18; Lk = 32; Jn = 30. It seems to come from an ancient tradition, as it falls under multiple attestation: Mark (e.g., 3:28), the Q Document (e.g., Lk 7:9 || Mt 8:10), John (e.g., 5:24) It is a reflection, no doubt, of the authority with which the historical Jesus spoke.

houtōs (in the same way)
The only reason to emphasize houtōs (thus, in the same way, as well as ... so), a fairly frequent expression (Mt = 32; Mk = 10; Lk = 21; Jn = 14; Acts = 26), is to point out that it has its natural place at the end of a parable: after his narrative, Jesus makes the comparison with life (in the same way...) (e.g., see the parable of the rich man in 12:21; parable of the builder and the king in 14:33; parable of the useless servant in 17:10).

chara (joy)
In the synoptic writings, Luke is the one who insists most on joy: Mt = 6; Mk = 1; Lk = 8. In Matthew, out of six occurrences, four are part of a parabolic narrative, so that we end up with only two passages: the magi who experience joy before the star (2:10) and the women who leave the empty tomb full of joy after the resurrection of Jesus (28:8). The only occurrence in Mark is in the parable of the seed (4:16) which is also found in Matthew. In Luke, the theme permeates his entire gospel: the angel announces great joy to Zechariah (1:14) as he does to the shepherds (2:10), the 72 disciples sent on the mission return all joyful (8:13), the disciples are overjoyed at the risen Jesus (24:41), and the gospel ends with these words: For them, having bowed down to him, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were constantly in the Temple praising God (24: 52-53). Here, in the verse we are analyzing, the joy is that of God personified by the shepherd before the restoration of relations with his sheep.

ouranō (heaven)
As one would expect, ouranos is a frequent word: Mt = 82; Mk = 18; Lk = 36; Jn = 18; Acts = 26. And it will come as no surprise that the highest occurrences are found in Matthew the Jew: for heaven was among the Jews a way of designating God while avoiding pronouncing the ineffable name. Thus, of the 82 occurrences in Matthew, more than half (44) are used to say either: Kingdom of Heavens, or: Father who is in heaven. This brings up the question of singular and plural. Here are some statistics on singular/plural: Mt = 28/54; Mk = 13/5; Lk = 32/4; Jn = 18/0; Acts = 25/1. Thus, the singular leads by a wide margin, except in Matthew the Jew. Of course, heaven is singular when it refers to that part of the universe above, as opposed to the earth (the birds of the air, see Mk 4:32 || Mt 13:32 || Lk 13:19; or: heaven and earth shall pass away in Mk 13:31 || Lk 16:17 || Mt 24:35).

Here, it is Luke that interests us, and the word is almost always in the singular. This preference is very clear, because out of the 32 occurrences of the singular, 20 are his own. This preference is especially true since Luke sometimes transforms his source that contains "heavens" so that the word becomes "heaven" (see 3:21-22 || Mk 1:10-11 for the source that comes from Mark, and Lk 6:23 || Mt 5:12 and Lk 11:13 || Mt 7:11 for the source Q (Like any rule, there are exceptions, and in Luke two exceptions, i.e. 10:20 where a text that seems proper to Luke has the expression "heavens" and especially 18:22 where Luke takes Mark who displays "heaven" and transforms it into "heavens"). In short, the presence of the word "heaven" in the singular in the verse we are analyzing is completely Lucanian. But if we look at it from the point of view of the historical Jesus, we can imagine that he must have spoken "of the heavens" like any good Jew to designate God. But the echo we have of Jewish writings in the preceding century shows that it is used in both the plural and the singular:

  • Daniel 4:13: (the prophet interprets the dream of a king) And this word: Let the stump and the roots of the tree be, that thy kingdom shall be preserved for thee until thou hast learned that the Heavens (ouranos) hath all domain
  • 1 Maccabees 3:18: Judas replied, "That a multitude should fall into the hands of a few is easy, and it is indifferent to Heaven (ouranos) to work out salvation by means of many or few men

On ouranos see the Glossary
metanoounti (repenting)
It is in Luke that we find especially the verb metanoeō (change one's mind, regret, repent): Mt = 5; Mk = 2; Lk = 9; Jn = 0; Acts = 4. It first appears in Mark with the expression: The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent (metanoeō) and believe in the Gospel (Mk 1:15; 6:12). It is present in the Q Document (Lk 10:13 || Mt 11:21; Lk 11:32 || Mt 12:41). But it is Luke who gives it all its expansion where we see it in seven passages that come from his pen. It is a very important theme for him, so much so that we find him on the cross with the "good" criminal, even if the word is not explicitly used. When we look at the passages that are his own, with the exception of the present section that we are analyzing, we observe three settings:

  • The setting of a sudden dramatic event with several deaths that serves as a warning of the importance of changing one's life now (13: 3.5)
  • The setting of the parable of poor Lazarus and the rich man, when the latter would like to warn his family to change their lives so as not to end up like him suffering in Hades, only to be told by Abraham that Moses and the Prophets are sufficient to understand the importance of acting differently in this life (16: 30)
  • The setting of Christian exhortation where we ask to forgive our brother who has offended us, if he regrets his action and changes his attitude (17: 3-4)

We usually translate metanoeō as repentance or conversion. It seems to me that the word "repentance" is too marked by emotions related to regret, and "conversion" is too associated with changing religion. To convey the idea that "metanoeō" implies the recognition that one is on the wrong path and the decision to direct one's life differently, I opted for: reorient one's life.

dikaiois (righteous)
The word dikaios (good man, just, right, fair, reasonable, innocent) is well known in the New Testament and especially in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 17; Mk = 2; Lk = 12; Jn = 3; Acts = 6. Basically, it means: to conform what should be. In English we have this idea when we say: to sing in tune, to have the right note; it is as if there is a target, and that we reach it in the middle. In our modern language, the meaning of "just" has narrowed somewhat to mean mostly what is fair: thus someone got justice if the sentence fits the crime, or someone will be accused of being unjust if he favors one more than the other, i.e. he is unfair. In the world of the New Testament, especially the gospels, the meaning of the word is much richer.

  • A few rare times it can mean innocent when talking about murder and innocent blood (dikaios): Mt 23:35; perhaps also Mt 27:19

  • Similarly, it can denote a man pious and committed to religious faith: thus Simeon was righteous (dikaios) and devout, waiting for the messiah (Lk 2:25), and Cornelius was a righteous (dikaios) and God-fearing man (Acts 10:22)

  • It can also mean "conforming to reality" or "conforming to the truth" when coupled with the act of judging: But why do you not judge for yourselves what is right (dikaios)? (Lk 12:57); see also Jn 5:30; 7:24; Acts 4:19.

  • It sometimes has the modern sense of fairness as seen in the "good" criminal who recognizes that his sentence is just (dikaios) (Lk 23:41) or in Joseph of Arimathea who is described as an upright and just man (dikaios) (Lk 23:50), and finally in the parable of the laborers sent to the vineyard where the owner promises a fair wage (dikaios) (Mt 20:4)

  • The word is sometimes associated with people who are respectful of the Jewish law and commandments, such as Elizabeth and Zechariah who "were righteous (dikaios) before God, and they followed, blameless, all the commandments and observances of the Lord" (Lk 1:6), and their son John, who will bring back the rebellious from the law to become righteous (dikaios) (Lk 1:17), and even in Joseph, father of Jesus, who want to follow the Jewish rules in repudiating Mary, and in that he is a just man (dikaios) (Mt 1:19), without bias; but the word can have a negative flavor when law-abiding is coupled with hypocrisy, as seen in Jesus' rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees who have the appearance of righteous (dikaios), but inside are full of hypocrisies and iniquity (Mt 23:28; see also Lk 18:9; 20:20)

  • Finally, and most frequently, dikaios is the opposite of sinner and is associated with people who will be worthy to have a share in the kingdom of God, and could be translated as "man of God" or "holy" in the Jewish sense where holiness denotes God's attribute, i.e. they reflect God and his will. Thus evangelist John may put "righteous Father (dikaios)" in Jesus' prayer (17:25), and Luke may refer to Jesus thus, "you have charged the holy and righteous (dikaios); you have claimed the grace of a murderer" (Acts 3:14); he also uses this word to refer to the messiah: "They (your fathers) killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One (dikaios), the very one you have now betrayed and murdered (Acts 7:52; see also Acts 22:14). So we are not surprised that Luke modifies Mark at the time of Jesus' death (Truly this man was a son of God!) to have the centurion say instead, "Surely this man was a righteous man (dikaios)!". Apart from Jesus, John the Baptist is also so named: Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous (dikaios) and holy man (Mk 6:20). But apart from these great figures, all men who reflect God are called righteous, for they stand on the same footing as the prophets (many prophets and righteous men (dikaios) have wished to see what you see and have not seen it, to hear what you hear and have not heard it: Mt 13:17; see also Mt 10:41 and 23:29), they are good beings as opposed to the wicked (Mt 5:45; see also Mt 13:49). It is possible that one must wait for God's judgment to be declared righteous (at the end of the world: the angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous (dikaios) : Mt 13:49; see also Mt 25:37 where the righteous wonder when they could have cared for the son of man). What is certain is that the righteous will taste the kingdom of God and eternal life: Then the righteous (dikaios) will shine like the sun in their Father's kingdom: Mt 13:43; see also Mt 25:46; Lk 14:14.

In this v. 7 that we are analyzing, we have translated dikaios as "blameless." Fundamentally, this word should fit here into the last semantic group we have presented: a man of God as opposed to the wicked and deviant. But the setting is polemical: the audience is composed of people who resemble those to whom the parable of the Pharisees and the Publican is addressed and of whom Luke says that they prided themselves on being righteous and had nothing but contempt for others (Lk 18:9). These are people who think they are perfect before God. It seems to me that the title "blameless" suits them well, because they are people who have the illusion that they no longer need guidance and evolution. It is in the same sense that three other passages should be interpreted: I have not come to call blameless people (dikaios), but wayward people to the reorientation of their lives (Lk 5:32); I have not come to call blameless people (dikaios), but wayward people (Mt 9:13); It is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick. I have not come to call the blameless (dikaios), but the wayward (Mk 2:17).

metanoias (repentance)
We analyzed above metanoeō (to reorient one's life). Here it is the noun metanoia. We had said that it was a very Lucan word. The same can be said of the noun: Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 5; Jn = 0; Acts = 6, so 11 times for the set Lk-Ac out of a total of 14 times. And if we combine the verb and the noun, we obtain 24 times for Lk-Acts out of a total of 34 times, that is, more than 70%. Let us just mention that in Mark and Matthew, metanoia appears only in the context of the baptism of John the Baptist (Mk 1:4; Mt 3:8.11). Luke also associates metanoia with the baptism of John (Lk 3:3.8; Acts 3:24; 19:4). But it is above all the main object of Christian mission, which is to proclaim life reorientation (metanoia) in Jesus' name to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem (24:27); see also Acts 5:31; 11:18; 20:21; 26:20. Thus, to claim that there is no need to reorient one's life comes down to denying what is at the heart of Christian mission.

v. 8 Another story. What woman, having the equivalent of ten days' wages and losing the equivalent of a single day's wages, would not light a lamp and sweep the house to search carefully until she found it?

Literally: Or what woman (gynē) having ten drachmas (drachmas), if she would lose one (mian) drachma (deka), does she not light (haptei) a lamp (lychnon) and sweeps (saroi) the house (oikian) and seeks (zētei) carefully (epimelōs) until (heōs hou) she would have found (eurē) it?

gynē (woman)
Luke can be said to be the women's evangelist (gynē): Mt = 29; Mk = 17; Lk = 41; Jn = 22; Acts = 19; and of the 41 uses in his gospel, 8 come from Mark, 2 from the Q Document, leaving 31 uses that are his own. But beyond these statistics, it is worth noting that Luke is keen to put a number of female figures on the scene, first Elizabeth (1:5) and Mary (1:42), as well as the prophetess Anna (2:36) in the infancy narratives, then this woman who pours a vase of perfume on his feet and whom Jesus says her sins are forgiven because she loved much (7, 44), the woman who has been bent over for 18 years and whom Jesus says is also a daughter of Abraham (13:12), and above all those whom he presents as disciples, having followed him from Galilee (8:2-3), and Martha and Mary to whom he says that she has chosen the better part, listening to the word, like the disciples (10:38). This second parable begins with the figure of a woman. Although we have just said that Luke likes to feature a woman, it does not follow that he would have created this parable. We have other examples of parables where one focuses on a man, the next on a woman (source Q: the man who sows a mustard seed and the woman who leavens the flour, Mt 13:31-32 || Lk 13:18-21). Is this man – woman sequence that Luke presents to us found in the source Q (but which Matthew would have eliminated), or is it Luke who adds to the source Q this woman-centered parable that he would get from another source? Impossible to answer.

drachmas (drachmas)
The drachma is a Greek silver currency, equivalent to the Roman denarius, which is a day's wage. The currency had spread to the Near East with the conquest of Alexander the Great. It is also mentioned a few times in the book of Maccabees (2 Macc 4:19; 10:20; 12:43). However, under the Roman Empire, the denarius dominates, and it is the denarius that is named as the currency in the gospels (14 times). The drachma appears only here in the whole New Testament: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. Why is this? Did Luke change his source to suit his Greek audience? But why did he not do so also with the parable of the debtor who owed 500 denarii (7:41), with the parable of the Good Samaritan who pays two denarii for his victim (10:35), and with the discussion of the payment of tribute to Caesar, where Jesus asks to show a denarius (20:24)? It should be noted that Greek, Roman and Jewish currencies coexisted in the Near East and that the authors of the gospel traditions probably felt free to switch from one currency to another. Thus the parable of the man on a journey who entrusts his fortune to his servants, which comes from the Q Document, revolves around the stronger Greek silver currency, the talent, in Matthew (25:15), a talent equivalent to 6,000 denarii, but it revolves around the mine (60 mines were equivalent to a talent) in Luke, another Greek silver currency (19:13). It is impossible to know what the currency of the parable was in Jesus' mouth, if it ever came from him. The same can be said of the woman with the ten drachmas.

On currency in the Bible, see the glossary

Noun drachmē in the Bible

deka (ten)
This numerical adjective is not very frequent (Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 9; Jn = 0; Acts = 1) and seems to play the role of a convenient round number in a narrative, especially to designate the highest number or the number of a group. In Luke, for example, ten lepers will come to Jesus to be healed (17:12), or a man going on a journey will entrust ten of his servants with ten mines, and the best one will succeed in producing another ten (19:13ff). In Matthew, there is the parable of the ten bridesmaids (25: 1), and in the parable of the talents, the one who had received 5 talents will produce 5 others to reach the total of ten. The same can be said of the parable of the woman with ten drachmas, while recognizing that Luke loves the number ten more than the others. But what is important to say for our story is that the sum of ten drachmas represents a large sum, i.e. at least ten days' wages, probably the equivalent of a month's wages in our modern world with our work organization.

mian (ne)
The number "one" is very frequent: Mt = 66; Mk = 44; Lk = 43; Jn = 40; Acts = 21. Here, the single drachma is in opposition with the ten drachmas. Let us remember that ten drachmas is a huge sum. And so one might think that losing one drachma is not a big deal, since the woman could live on 9 drachmas. But all the work of the woman to find that lost drachma shows the importance of each of the drachmas. This fits perfectly with the parable where only one of the hundred sheep is lost: each one is important. Behind these two parables, we see the link with God's view of each and every human being, no matter how many.

haptei (she lights)
The verb haptō has two different meanings: 1) to touch, and 2) to kindle something. Luke uses it the most: Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 9; Jn = 0; Acts = 1. But if we consider only the passages where it has the meaning of "to light up" as here, we observe that he is alone: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Acts = 1. There is even more. In two passages where Luke takes up Mark's text where the latter speaks of a lamp that is to be put on a lampstand, not under the bushel or under the bed, Luke first takes the trouble to add that one must first "light the lamp" (haptō lychnon)(8, 16). Note that Matthew (5:15) has the same reaction, also copying Mark's text, but he uses a different verb: to make a lamp burn (kaiō lychnon). And Luke copies again 8:16 text almost as is a little later in 11:33. So we must admit that this account of the woman who lost her drachma and lights a lamp has a very Lucan vocabulary. Nevertheless, there is nothing to prevent us from thinking that he did not create from scratch this story, but took it up from a tradition and gave it a personal touch.

lychnon (lamp)
Despite the fact that the word refers to an everyday object, lychnos (lamp, torch) is not so common: Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 6; Jn = 1; Acts = 0. In Matthew, both uses are a reworking, one from Mark, the other from the Q Document. In both Luke and Matthew, two uses are also a retelling of the same passage from Mark, and one use in Luke is a retelling of the same Q Document. That leaves three passages of Luke that come from his pen or from a source of his own. Again, we have a word that is part of his world. Lamp is associated with light that illuminates and allows us to see clearly, which therefore allows us to act and to set ourselves in motion.

saroi (she sweeps)
There is little to say about saroō (sweep, clean), except that it seems almost unknown to the evangelists (and totally absent from the rest of the New Testament): Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. The appearance of the word in Matthew and in one passage of Luke has been taken from Q Document (Mt 12:44 || Lk 11:25). This leaves the passage we are analyzing the only other instance of the word. It is difficult to see this as a word that Luke likes. It was probably part of the parable he receives from a source.

oikian (house)
On oikia (Mt = 25; Mk = 18; Lk = 24; Jn = 5; Acts = 11), let us just recall what we said above: Luke prefers the masculine form (oikos) to the feminine form (oikia), but the latter is still frequent enough to be part of his vocabulary.

zētei (she seeks)
The verb zēteō, which means either to seek or to ask, is widespread in the gospels: Mt = 14; Mk = 10; Lk = 25; Jn = 32; Acts = 9. It is all the easier to understand because it is part of the expression "to seek to seize Jesus" or "to seek to destroy him" which recurs like a leitmotif in all the gospels. This verb is part of the vocabulary of Mark, the Q Document, John, and passages unique to Luke or Matthew. In Luke, although the word is not used as much as in John, the word appears 16 times under his pen out of 25 occurrences, with the remaining instances falling under a borrowing either from Mark (especially in the passion and resurrection narratives) or from the Q Document (especially the narratives about seeking the kingdom of God rather than worrying about tomorrow). In his infancy narrative, Jesus' parents are looking for him (2:48-49), later people seek to touch him (6:19), Herod seeks to see him (9:9), Zacchaeus seeks to see him (19:3). This is a word that Luke likes, so much so that sometimes he modifies his source, to add "seek": for example, the people carrying a paralytic "seek" to bring him into the house where Jesus is (5: 18 || Mk 2: 3), or the Q Document about worrying about tomorrow where Matthew speaks of worrying about what will be eaten (6:31) while Luke speaks instead of "seeking" what will be eaten (12:29). In the parable of the lost coin, was the verb "to seek" in the source or did Luke rewrite the parable? It is impossible to answer.

epimelōs (carefully)
This adverb appears only here in the whole New Testament: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0, which is often a sign that the evangelist uses a source.

heōs hou (until)
It is worth pausing for a brief moment on the expression heōs hou followed by the subjunctive, for it is not common: Mt = 5; Mk = 0; Lk = 4; Jn = 1; Acts = 1. In Matthew, it is the work of his pen, except for one passage from the Q Document (Mt 13:33 || Lk 13:21). And what is remarkable, he changes Mark's text twice, in one case (Mark who only has heōs + present tense) to add hou + subjunctive (Mt 14:22 || Mk 6:45), in a second case to add outright heōs hou + subjunctive (Mt 17:9 || Mk 9:9) in a sentence where Mark writes: ei mē hotan (otherwise when). In Luke, the situation is simpler: apart from this passage coming from the source Q that he shares with Matthew (13:21), the other three passages come from his pen or from a source of his own. Thus, the expression in the parable of the lost coin could come from both Luke's pen and the Q Document.

eurē (she would have found)
This verb has already been analyzed and we have said that, although it is very frequent in Luke, it could just as well come from the Q Document, as we saw in the parable of the shepherd who lost a sheep.

v. 9 And after she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors, saying, "Come and rejoice with me, for I have found the money equivalent to a day's wages that I had lost."

Literally: And having found, she calls together the friends and neighbors saying, rejoice with me for I have found the drachma that I lost.

 
We have here a strict parallel with the end of the parable of the lost sheep: same words, same verbs. Let us make the comparison from the Greek text literally translated. In italics, we have put words present in one parable, absent from the other, and in bold type the modified words.

Manet having found (masc.)... he calls together the friends (masc) and the neighbors (v. 4-5)
Womanet having found (fem.) she calls together the friends (fem.) and neighbors (v. 8-9)

Mansaying (masc.) to them: rejoice with me (v. 6)
Womansaying (fem.): rejoice with me (v. 9)

Manfor I have found the sheep of me the have been lost (perfect participle, neuter sg)(v. 6)
Womanfor I have found the drachma that (fem.) I lost (aorist 1st pers. sg) (v. 9)

Thus, the two parables end almost identically: the major difference lies in the variation of gender, masculine for the first (note that in Greek the participle and the relative pronoun agree in gender and number), feminine for the second. In this case, both parables aim to convey the same message.

v. 10 It is in the same way, I tell you, that there is joy among people in relationship with God for a single deviant who reorients his life."

Literally: In the same way I say to you (houtōs, legō hymin), joy happens (ginetai) before the angels (angelōn) of the God upon one sinner repenting (metanoounti).

 
The first thing to note is that this conclusion is virtually identical to that of the parable of the lost sheep, our first parable. Let's take a closer look by dividing the verse into three sections. We have bolded the different words.

Parable 1I say to you that in the same way
Parable 2In the same way, I say to you

Parable 1joy there will be in the heaven
Parable 2happens joy before the angels of the God

Parable 1upon one sinner repenting
Parable 2upon one sinner repenting

One will have noticed that the sequence of certain words has changed: in parable 2 (lost coin), "in the same way" comes before the "I say to you", and not after, just as the verb "it happens" comes before the mention of joy and its complement, and not after. The verb to be in the future tense (will be) has been replaced by the verb "to happen" in the present tense in the second parable, and heaven has been replaced by "the angels of God".

Moreover, the particle "that" has disappeared in the second parabola.

Finally, let us mention that the conclusion of the first parable ended with "than upon ninety-nine righteous who do not have need for repentance", which obviously disappeared in the second parable, since the setting had completely changed.

What to conclude? The differences in the first two sections could indicate two different authors of the sources Luke uses. There is nothing to prevent us from thinking that the middle part of these sources is the same, i.e., the Q Document, even though Matthew does not introduce it (did he want to eliminate a duplicate?). Why different authors? If the author were the same, we would have expected identical sentences, as in any good, easily memorized popular story. But there is nothing to prevent these stories from being from similar backgrounds.

The difference in vocabulary and expressions is minimal. For example, the expression "I say to you" with or without the particle "that" seems to be used interchangeably in all the gospels, including the Q Document (see Lk 10:12 || Mt 10:15 with the particle, see Lk 7:9 || Mt 10:12 without the particle). Or, "in the same way" can be found either before the verb or after the verb (see Lk 17:26 || Mt 24:37 where "in the same way" precedes the verb, see Lk 12:43 || Mt 24:46) where "in the same way" follows the verb. Finally, the verbs "will be" and "it happens" are equally attested in the Q Document (see Lk 11:30 || Mt 12:40 for "will be" and Lk 11:26 || Mt 12:45 for "it happens"). That being said, the third section is a different matter where the words are identical: for one sinner repenting. This is most likely an addition by Luke to his source, for not only do the verb "to repent" and the noun "repentance" appear often in his pen as we said above, they are also part of his theology.

houtōs, legō hymin (in the same way, I say to you)
These words have already been analyzed above, where we said that they seem to reflect an ancient tradition.

ginetai (it happens)
The verb ginomai (to be, to arise, to become, to come into existence, to appear) is as frequent in Greek as the verbs to have and to be in English: (Mt = 76; Mk = 54; Lk = 132; Jn = 50; Acts = 110). Even though Luke uses it the most (242 times for Gospel-Acts), it is impossible to conclude that we have here a feature of his pen. Besides, ginomai declined in the 3rd person present tense as here is not so frequent in his works: Mt = 6; Mk = 7; Lk = 5; Jn = 0; Acts = 0.

Verb ginomai in the Gospels-Acts
angelōn (angels)
Luke is very fond of angels: Mt = 20; Mk = 6; Lk = 25; Jn = 3; Acts = 21 (46 times for Gospel-Acts). But we must remember that angelos is the translation of the Hebrew: malʾak (messenger, one who is sent). Thus the word in Lk 7:24 must sometimes be translated as "envoy" or "messenger": When the envoys (angelos) of John had gone, Jesus began to tell the crowds about John (see also Lk 7:27; 9:52). In Luke, of the 25 uses, 22 point to this heavenly messenger. Note also that of the 22 uses, 20 appear from the pen of Luke, the other two instances being a copy of Mark, the other of Q Document. In addition, 14 occurrences (64%) appear in infancy narratives. But what interests us here is the expression "angels of God." Now, apart from this verse that we are analyzing, the expression appears elsewhere three times, twice in Luke and once in John (And he said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending over the Son of Man: Jn 1: 51). But in Luke, both occurrences appear in the context where Luke takes up the Q Document. Let's compare Luke's version with Matthew's. I have bolded similar words, and underlined major differences.

Matthew 10Luke 12
32 Everyone therefore whoever will confess in me before the men, I also I will confess in him before the father of me the (one) in the heavens.8 Then, I say to you, everyone who perchance would confess in me before the men, also the son of the man will confess in him before the angels of the God.
33 Then, whoever perchance would deny me before the men, I will deny also him before the father of me, the (one) in the heavens.9 Then, the (one) having denied me before the men, he will be denied before the angels of the God.

One will have noticed the major differences. In Matthew, it is Jesus at the Last Judgment who recognizes those who have confessed him and denies those who have denied him, and everything happens before the Father in heaven. In Luke, it is the Son of Man at the Last Judgment who recognizes those who have confessed him, and it is God (implied through the passive verb) who denies those who have denied Jesus, and everything happens before the angels of God.

So the question arises: which of the two versions better reflects the Q Document? Let's start with the phrase "Father in heavens." Of the 14 occurrences in the gospels, 13 appear in Matthew (the only exception being Mk 11:25 where the praying believer must forgive the faults of others if he wants the Father in heaven to forgive him). Now, of the 13 occurrences in Matthew, seven appear in his own passages. And in the other six passages, it is he who seems to modify his source to add "Father in heavens". The clearest case is Mt 12:50 where he modifies Mark's text (Mc 3, 35: This is my mother and my brethren: whoever does the will of God) which becomes under his pen: This is my mother and my brethren: for whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven. He does the same thing with the Q Document. For example, biblical scholars generally agree that Luke's version of the "Our Father" prayer is the oldest. Thus we have: Father, hallowed be thy Name (Lk 11:2). But Matthew would have modified it to read: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name (Mt 6:9) (see also Lk 11:13 || Mt 7:11; Lk 6:46 || Mt 7:21).

Conclusion: the Luke version with "angels of God" best reflects the Q Document and it was Matthew who modified it to replace "angels of God" with "Father in heaven". And the presence of "angels of God" is entirely appropriate in a Last Judgment context, as seen throughout the gospels, and which is confirmed by that other source John 1:51 quoted above.

Finally, one can easily settle the expression "son of man" in Luke against Matthew's version: I...me. "Son of man" belongs to the apocalyptic context (see Daniel 7) that was Jesus' and it is most likely a title that originated with Jesus himself (see R.E. Brown). It is a title that was a bit of a source of confusion among the early Christians and was not retained as a major title of the risen Jesus in the community. On the other hand, the expression "I... me" at the time of the Last Judgment betrays the Christian faith in the resurrection of Jesus. There is no doubt that Luke's version is to be preferred as being the earliest and best reflecting the Q Document.

If we return to the parable of the lost drachma, we can say with a good degree of confidence that the expression "joy before the angels of God" comes from an ancient source and not from Luke, and even more, it may well belong to the Q document. Let us mention in closing that this notion of angels of God goes back to the Old Testament (malʾak yhwh: see e.g. Genesis 16:7-13).

However, there is still one small point to be resolved: while the angels of God usually appear in a Last Judgment context, and thus in the future (see Lk 9:26; 12:8-9; Mk 8:38; Jn 1:51), how can we have a present tense verb here: joy happens before the angels of God, i.e., it is right now that the angels of God are reacting with joy? In the Jewish world, angels seem to have a special role at the final judgment (see Mk 13:27; Mt 25:31), but their role is much broader, so that Matthew can write: Do not despise any of these little ones: for I tell you, their angels in heaven constantly behold the face of my Father who is in heavens (18:10). Thus, angels seem to be that channel of communication between men and God, so that the events of this world have an echo in the other world. And when we consider the gospels as a whole, angels play a role in the present.

metanoounti (repenting)
Let us repeat what we said earlier: we are here before an addition of Luke to support his theology concerning conversion and change of life, in the image of the "good" criminal on the cross.

v. 11 Jesus adds another story. "There was a man with two sons.

Literally: Then he said a certain man (anthrōpos tis) was having two (dyo) sons

anthrōpos tis (a certain man)
It is worth noting the phrase anthrōpos tis, as it is unique to Luke in all the Gospels and Acts: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 6; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. It is his signature way of introducing a narrative:

  • 10:30: Jesus said again, "A certain man (anthrōpos tis) was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell into the midst of robbers, who, after stripping him and beating him, went away, leaving him half dead.
  • 14:2: And behold, a certain man (anthrōpos tis) was hydropic before him.
  • 14: 16: He said to him, "Some man (anthrōpos tis) was making a great dinner, to which he invites many people.
  • 15:11: He said again, "A certain man (anthrōpos tis) had two sons.
  • 16: 1: Again, he said to his disciples, "A certain man (anthrōpos tis) was rich who had a steward, and the steward was denounced to him as squandering his goods.
  • 19:12: Then he said, "A certain man (anthrōpos tis) of high birth went to a far country to receive the royal dignity and then returned.

dyo (two)
It is interesting to look at the number two: Mt = 40; Mk = 18; Lk = 28; Jn = 13; Acts = 0. Because in many cases it has a symbolic meaning that goes beyond the simple designation of a number. Let us name some of them:
  • Two can mean wealth and abundance: Let him who has two tunics share with him who has none (Lk 3:11); do not go on a mission with two tunics (Lk 9:3)
  • Two can signify the plurality of the community: Jesus sends his disciples on mission two by two (Lk 10:1) and the disciples of Emmaus travel by two (Lk 24:13); when two or three are gathered together, Jesus is in the midst of them (Mt 18:20)
  • Two can signify the opposition between two realities: no one can serve two masters, God and money (Lk 16:13); in the eschatological period, families will be divided, three against two, two against three (Lk 12:52)
  • Two may mean the minimum number for legal testimony: in case of a dispute, at least two witnesses are needed (Mt 18:16); eventually two witnesses are found to testify against Jesus (Mt 26:60)
  • Two is used to contrast two different behaviors or fates: a debtor with a large debt and a debtor with a much smaller debt (Lk 7:41); in the eschatological period, two people sharing the same place might experience different fates (Lk 17:34-35); two men go up to the temple to pray with totally different attitudes (Lk 18:10); a man had two children to whom he asks to go to work in the field, with different results (Mt 21:31)

Of course, the number two in our beginning parable belongs to the latter category.

v. 12 The youngest said to his father, 'Dad, give me the portion of inheritance that is due to me from what you have'. Then the father shares his property.

Literally: and the younger (neōteros) of them said to the father (pater), Father give to me the share (meros) falling upon (epiballon) (me) of the property (ousias). Then, him, he divided (dieilen) to them (autois) the livelihood (bion).

neōteros (the younger)
This is a comparative that is very little present in the New Testament and in the gospels: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 3; Jn = 1; Acts = 1. In contrast to our society where the youngest are valued, the Judeo-Christian universe has a somewhat negative perception of the young, so that they are relegated to menial tasks: let the greatest among you behave as the youngest (neōteros), and he who rules as he who serves (Lk 22:26); they take on tasks that others do not want to do: The young men came and wrapped the body and took it away to bury it (Acts 5:6). They are reproached for their freedom and impulse: When you were young (neōteros), you yourself put on your belt, and went wherever you wanted (Jn 21:18); the young widows (neōteros), put them away. As soon as desires unworthy of Christ assail them, they want to remarry (1 Timothy 5:11). So the beginning of our parable announces the worst. And we will have noticed that it is Luke who mostly uses this word. Moreover, the only appearance of the word outside of Luke is in Jn 21:18, based on a source that Luke also knows (see Lk 5).

pater (father)
The word patēr (father, ancestor) is widespread: Mt = 62; Mk = 18; Lk = 52; Jn = 130; Acts = 34.

  • But it designates above all God in his attribute of father, especially in John: Mt = 44; Mk = 4; Lk = 13; Jn = 113; Acts = 3.
  • It can also designate the ancestors in its plural form (our fathers): Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 7; Jn = 4; Acts = 22.
  • On some occasions, he refers to Abraham and David in their relationship with all the people: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 6; Jn = 3; Acts = 2.
  • Finally, it refers to a human being, a father of children: Mt = 15; Mk = 13; Lk = 26; Jn = 8; Acts = 6.

Finally, let us note that this word, in the form of a call out of a human being (in the vocative in Greek), appears only in this parable in the gospels.

Noun patēr in the Gospels-Acts

Father referring to God in the Bible according to R. Brown

meros (share)
The word meros does not play a large role in the gospels: Mt = 4; Mk = 1; Lk = 4; Jn = 4; Acts = 7. It basically means part of a whole, and is translated as portion (of a whole), share (in a group), piece (of a food), region (part of a country), remnant (of a whole), lot (among the various fates reserved for people), group (among a population). And it is well known to Luke as we see in the Acts of the Apostles. In his gospel, of the 4 occurrences, three are his own, the other coming from the Q Document. In the parable meros of course denotes a share of inheritance. It will have been noted that the inheritance does not only go to the eldest, but also to the youngest.

epiballon (falling upon)
The verb epiballō is composed of two words: the verb ballō (to throw) and the preposition epi (upon), hence the translations: to put something on something (e.g., to put one's hands on the plow, or to add something to something), to fall on someone, to throw oneself on someone or something (hence, to seize someone, or, the waves beat into the boat), to collapse (Peter collapses (epiballō) in tears after his denial). In our parable, a portion of the inheritance falls to the youngest, and thus goes to him. The word is known to Luke: Mt = 4; Mk = 2; Lk = 5; Jn = 2; Acts = 4. And in his gospel, among the 5 occurrences 2 appear in passages that are his own (to put one's hand to the plow: 9:62; the share of fortune that falls to someone: 15:12), in two occurrences it is Luke who adds the verb to his Marcan source (they seek to lay hands on Jesus: 20:19; they will lay hands on the disciples and persecute them), finally one last occurrence comes from the Q Document (adding an old garment to a new one: 5:36). In Acts, the verb only means to lay hands on someone.

ousias (property)
Here is a word absent from the entire New Testament, except for these two occurrences in our parable. The word would come from the verb eimi (I am) in the present participle (ousa): things being mine, hence possessions, properties.

dieilen (he divided)
Diaireō means to dismantle, to split in two, to divide, hence to distribute and to apportion. But the word is almost non-existent in the whole New Testament. It is found only here (Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0) and in Paul ( But all this is done by one and the same Spirit, distributing (diaryō) his gifts to each one in particular as he sees fit: 1 Cor 12:11). The father's gesture may raise questions: why does he agree to the request of his younger son? Is this a wise decision? Let us read again this passage from Sirach 33:20-24:
To son or wife, to brother or friend, do not give power over yourself, as long as you live; and do not give your property to another, in case you change your mind and must ask for it. While you are still alive and have breath in you, do not let anyone take your place. For it is better that your children should ask from you than that you should look to the hand of your children. Excel in all that you do; bring no stain upon your honor. At the time when you end the days of your life, in the hour of death, distribute your inheritance.

According to this criterion, the father is not wise. If this parable comes from Jesus and reflects the image of God, it is affirming that God gives priority to human freedom over the exercise of authority.

autois (to them)
The only reason to focus on this word is to point out that this personal pronoun is in the plural. The father would therefore have distributed his fortune to the two sons. Since this distribution does not seem to have any impact on the elder, one can imagine that it is only at the death of the father that the son will take possession of his share of the inheritance, as recommended in Sirach.

bion (livelihood)
We know the word bios in English, because it has given us words like biology or biography. Basically, it means: life, not in the sense of animal life, but in the sense of a mode or way of living, from which are derived livelihood, means of subsistence, resources, having, fortune, standard of living. It is rare in the New Testament and in the gospels: Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk = 5; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. Mark uses it for the first and only time when Jesus says of the poor widow who put two coins in the temple treasury that she had put in "her livelihood" (Mk 12:14). Luke takes this verse as it is (Lk 21:4). But he seems to like the word since, copying from Mark his explanation of the parable of the sower, he will add that one of the causes of the choking of the word comes from the pleasures of the standard of living (bios) (Lk 8:14). Similarly, in the account of the hemorrhosis that he takes from Mark, he has this phrase that he adds: she had spent all her livelihood (bios) on physicians (Lk 8:43). Finally, we have both occurrences in our parable. So we can think that Luke did not invent this parable of a father and his two sons, but he takes it up in his own way.

Noun bios in the Bible
v. 13 And without waiting a long time, his bags packed, the younger went on a journey to a distant country. And it was there that he wasted what he possessed by leading a dissolute life.

Literally: And after not many days (met’ ou pollas hēmeras), having gathered together (synagagōn) all (panta), the younger son went abroad on a journey (apedēmēsen) into country distant (chōran makran) and there (kai ekei) he squandered (dieskorpisen) the estate (ousian) of him living (zōn) recklessly (asōtōs).

met' ou pollas hēmeras (And after not many days)
The word hēmera, as we can well guess, is extremely common, since it refers to an everyday reality: Mt = 42; Mk = 25; Lk = 79; Jn = 30; Acts = 86. As we can see, it is in Luke that it appears most often, but this in itself tells us little. However, if we look at the expression "not many days" (ou pollas hēmeras), we realize that we are looking at a unique expression in the whole of Luke's gospel and that it is only found as such in John 2:12: After this he went down to Capernaum, he and his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they remained there not many days (ou pollas hēmeras) (It is true that the account in Acts 1:5 presents us with something similar with ou meta pollas tautas hēmeras when Jesus says to his disciples: in the Holy Spirit you will be baptized within a few days). Elsewhere in Luke, the qualifier for several days is: pleiōn (Acts 21:10; 27:20), or again: hikanos (Acts 27:7). It is possible, then, that the source of this parable belongs to a milieu that bears similarities to John's. In any case, the idea is the same: the negation is used to say that few days passed between the father's decision to share the inheritance and the son's decision to spend that inheritance: that is, his haste.

Noun hēmera in the Gospels-Acts
synagagōn pas (having gathered together)
There is little to say about synagō (Mt = 24; Mk = 5; Lk = 7; Jn = 7; Acts = 11) which is not so usual in Luke and seems to come from a particular source each time. But if we look at the expression synagō pas where pas, an adjective (all), is used as a noun (as here where), then we note that the only other passage of this expression is in Mt 22:10 in the parable of the wedding guests who slip away: his servants ... came and gathered up all those (synagō pas) whom they found. Now, this parable belongs to the Q Document (In Lk 20:23, Luke mentions only the master's command without describing the execution). Does the parable of the younger son come from the Q Document, like the shepherd with his 100 sheep? It's possible, but we'd need a little more clue. We have translated the phrase "having gathered all" as "his bags packed" in an effort to update it in a contemporary context.

apedēmēsen eis chōran makran (went abroad on a journey into a country distant)
The verb apodēmeō does not seem to be part of Luke's vocabulary: Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. For the only other mention of the word is in the parable of the homicidal vinedressers (20:9), which he copies from Mark (Mk 12:1). Moreover, while the word appears twice in Matthew's Parable of the Talents (25:14-15), where the master goes on a journey and gives the responsibility for his wealth to his servants, taken from the Q Document, it is totally absent in Luke's Parable of the Mines (19:12-13), taken from the same source. On the other hand, in this same parable of the mines, appears the only other mention of the expression we have here: distant country (chōra makros). Again, is it pure coincidence that we end up with the Q Document? In any case, the mention of a journey to a distant land means that we are no longer in Jewish land, in the land of our birth, and thus prepares us for what is to follow.

kai ekei (and there)
By itself, the adverb ekei (there) is not of much interest in Luke's study. But it is different when it follows the conjunction "and" (kai). And to be more precise, here we have a sentence structure that has a particular form: a main proposition in the past tense (he went abroad on a journey), followed by the expression kai ekei (and there) which introduces another main proposition in the past tense (he squandered the estate). It may surprise us to learn that this sentence structure is quite rare in the Gospels. In Luke, it is its only presence here. Elsewhere, it appears only in John on three occasions:

  • Jn 2: 12: After that he came down (aorist) to Capernaum, he and his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and there (kai ekei) they remained (aorist) only a few days.
  • Jn 3: 22: After this, Jesus came (aorist) with his disciples to the land of Judea and there (kai ekei) he stayed (imperfect) with them, and baptized.
  • Jn 6: 3: Jesus climbed (aorist) the mountain and there (kai ekei), he was sitting (imperfect) with his disciples.

This connection with John is troubling and is consistent with other passages in Luke where the source seems to come from a similar background to John's.

dieskorpisen (he squandered)
The verb diaskorpizō is a compound of two words: skorpizō (to scatter, disperse, dissipate) and the preposition dia (through, by means of), and means: to squander, to dissipate away. This is not a word that is part of Luke's usual vocabulary: Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Acts = 1. It was Mark (14:27) who first introduced the word by putting into Jesus' mouth a citation from Zechariah 24:7 that announces that the shepherd will be struck down and the sheep scattered (diaskorpizō). Matthew (26:31) will pick up on this passage, but not Luke, who eliminates from his passion narrative the flight of the disciples. Otherwise, the word occurs twice more in Matthew in his parable of the talents (24:25-26) which comes from the Q Document, where it has the sense of spreading, like a citizen spreading his seed. In Luke, the word is absent from his equivalent parable of the mines. Thus, apart from its presence in the parable of the father and the younger son, it appears in the infancy narrative in Mary's prayer of praise (1:51), who thanks God for scattering (diaskorpizō) the men with superb hearts, and in the parable of the skillful administrator (16:1), whom his master reproaches for squandering (diaskorpizō) his goods. Now, only in this last parable is the verb associated with the idea of dispersing one's possessions. Thus, the only real parallel to the parable of the younger son is the parable of the clever administrator. Both parables belong to a source that only he knows.

ousian (the estate)
Just one note: in v. 12, the word ousia referred to what the father possessed. Now it refers to what the younger son possesses. Thus, by squandering his inheritance, it is the father's possessions that he squanders.

zōn asōtōs (living recklessly)
Again with zaō (to live) we are not in Luke's world, but rather in John's: Mt = 5; Mk = 2; Lk = 8; Jn = 19; Acts = 6. But what is especially noteworthy is that we have here a unique case in all the gospels where the verb zaō is accompanied by an adverb to describe a way of living. And this way of life is described by asōtōs, an adverb found nowhere else in the entire Bible and which means: without hope of recovery, hopeless case, which brings destruction, hence our translation of dissolute life. Thus, the younger man is in the process of self-destruction.

v. 14 After having exhausted everything, it happened that there was a great scarcity in the country where he was, so that he began to experience poverty.

Literally: Then, having spent (dapanēsantos) of him all, strong (ischyra) famine (limos) happened against that country (chōran ekeinēn) and himself began (ērxato) to be in need (hystereisthai).

dapanēsantos (having spent)
The verb dapanaō means: to pay all expenses, to consume, to exhaust. It is a rare word throughout the Bible and in the gospels: Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 1. While Luke would have had a chance to use it when he takes from Mark the account of the hemorrhosis (having exhausted (dapanaō) all that she had: Mk 5:26), he ignores this incise. Aside from our parable of the younger son, the only occurrence of the word in his works is in Acts when he reports that Christians ask Paul to cover the expenses (dapanaō) to have the heads of four people who had taken a vow shaved, to show that he is still attached to Jewish traditions (see Acts 21:24). Thus, it is most likely that this word belonged to the source Luke uses.

limos (famine)
In the Gospels, half of the occurrences of limos are related to this eschatological passage in Mark 13:8 (There will be earthquakes in places, there will be famines) that Matthew (24:7) and Luke (21:11) copy: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 4; Jn = 0; Acts = 2. Otherwise, apart from our parable about the younger son, the only mention is in this passage of Luke where he puts into Jesus' mouth an allusion to the famine in the time of Elijah (4:25). Again, we can only assume that this is a word from the source used by Luke. Note that in ancient times famine was a cyclical phenomenon.

ischyra (strong)
There are two occurrences in Luke, one of which (11:21) is a copy of Mark (no one may enter the house of a strong: 3:27), as in Matthew (12:29) for that matter: Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. Here, in the parable of the younger man, Luke seems content to copy his source.

chōran ekeinēn (that country)
This is an expression that is found only in this parable. Otherwise, only Mark gives us another example: Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. In short, this is a non-Lucan expression.

ērxato (he began)
The verb archō means: to begin, to set about, to take the lead, to rule, to command and appears very often in Luke: Mt = 13; Mk = 26; Lk = 31; Jn = 2; Acts = 6. But it is a word so frequent also in Mark that Luke often copies that no conclusion can be drawn.

hystereisthai (to be in need)
The word hystereō means: to lag behind, to be behind, to be inferior, to fail to obtain, to lack, to be in want or in need. It is an infrequent word in the gospels (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 1; Acts = 0), and the only occurrence outside of our parable is in a passage unique to Luke where he puts into Jesus' mouth a remark about the disciples never lacking anything on mission (22:35). In short, it sheds little light on our parable. What is clear is that having spent all his inheritance leads him to a situation that we would describe as such today: being on the street. What is less clear: what does this have to do with the famine?
Verb hystereō in the Gospels-Acts

Noun hysterēsis in the New Testament

Noun hysterēma in the New Testament

v. 15 Reacting, he offered his services to a citizen of the region, who sent him to the fields to take care of the pigs.

Literally: And having gone, he joined himself (ekollēthē) to one of the citizens (politōn) of that country and he sent (epempsen) him into the fields (agrous) of him to feed (boskein) pigs (choirous).

ekollēthē (he joined himself)
The verb kollaō means: to glue, cement, join together tightly, put together. It is almost totally absent from the gospels: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 5. In Acts, Luke uses it mostly to describe the action of people joining (kollaō) the community. In his gospel, apart from our text, Luke inserts this verb in a passage from Mark: Even the dust of your city that has stuck (kollaō) to our feet, we wipe off to leave it for you (10: 11). Was it Luke who added this scene to his source? It is difficult to answer. Attaching oneself to someone is a kind of contract, which we have translated as: offering one's services. There is no indication that we are dealing with a typical form of slavery in the case of a person in debt.

politōn (citizens)
The word politēs means: citizen, free man. Apart from a passage in the epistle to the Hebrews (8:11), only Luke seems to know this word in the entire New Testament: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 1. In the parable of the mines, where the basis comes from the Q Document, it is possible that he is the one who adds the fact that the fellow citizens (politēs) hated the man of high birth who goes on a journey (19:14). Would he have done the same thing with the parable of the younger son? It is possible. In that case, he would have accentuated the alienation of the younger son: he is an immigrant, a foreigner, without the rights of a citizen.

epempsen (he sent)
The verb pempō means: to send, to send away, to lead, to escort (Mt = 4; Mk = 1; Lk = 10; Jn = 32; Acts = 11) and is well known in Luke. Of course, it appears in profusion in John, for whom Jesus is "sent" by the Father. But it is a word that Luke likes. Of the 10 occurrences in his gospel, only one is copied from the Q Document (7:19). The other nine seem to come from a source of his own or from his own pen. A typical case is the parable of the homicidal vinedressers that Luke borrows from Mark: while the latter uses apostellō to describe the sending of a servant by the master of the vineyard, Luke prefers to substitute pempō (Mk. 12:4 || Lk. 20:11; Mk. 12:5 || Lk. 20:12; Mk. 12:6 || Lk 20:13). Did he do the same here? It is hard to say.

agrous (fields)
Luke's references to agros (field) are less frequent than one might think: Mt = 17; Mk = 9; Lk = 9; Jn = 0; Acts = 1. Of the nine occurrences, five are from sources he uses, and the other four are from parables of his own. Thus, we cannot observe any editing work in which he would have added the mention of the fields. This is not surprising: we have already observed that he is a man of the city, and that sometimes he transforms a field into a garden (see Lk 13:19, where he modifies into a garden an element of the Q Document which probably referred to a field (Mt 13:31)).

boskein (to feed)
Only the Gospels mention boskō (feed, care for, graze, tend): Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 3; Jn = 2; Acts = 0. And it is above all Mark who introduced this word in the scene where unclean spirits ask Jesus, as he is about to expel them from a man, to be sent to a herd of grazing pigs (Mk 5:11.14), and which Matthew (8:30.33), and Luke (8:32.34) repeat. Otherwise, only Luke (here, in our parable of the younger son) and John (21:15.17) have this reference to "feeding". Again, we have this kinship between Luke's source and John's milieu.

choirous (pigs)
The pigs were introduced by Mark with his famous scene of the man possessed by a legion of demons who asks to be expelled to a herd of pigs (Mk. 5:11-16), which is repeated in Matthew (8:30-32) and Luke (8:32-33). Otherwise, only one particular passage in Matthew (7:6) and Luke (here in our parable) mentions it. We are not surprised to learn that there was no pig in Jewish circles, for it was an unclean animal (No pig, which has a cloven hoof and is split, but does not chew; you shall hold it unclean. You shall not eat of their flesh nor touch their carcasses: Deuteronomy 14:8). The mention of swine emphasizes two things: the younger son is really in a non-Jewish environment, thus abroad, and he is reduced to doing work that is somewhat humiliating for a Jew.
v. 16 Oh! As he would have liked to eat the carobs devoured by the pigs, but no one gave it to him.

Literally: And he was longing (epethymei) to be satisfied (chortasthēnai) out of the carob pods (keratiōn) that the pigs were eating (ēsthion) and no one (oudeis) was giving to him.

epethymei (he was longing)
The verb epithymeō (to desire, to covet, to crave, to long for) appears especially in Luke, and in passages that are unique to him: Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 4; Jn = 0; Acts = 1. And what is remarkable is that the expression "to long to be satisfied" is also found as is in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (16:21), and the structure "to long for" plus an infinitive verb appears not only in these two parables, but also in a word that Luke puts into the mouth of Jesus: I longed to eat this passover (22:15). One could say that this is a coincidence from the source, or one could see it as a Lucan edit of its source.

chortasthēnai (to be satisfied)
The verb chortazō (to feed, to fatten, to be satisfied) is not peculiar to Luke: Mt = 4; Mk = 4; Lk = 4; Jn = 0; Acts = 1. For apart from the two occurrences of "to long to be satisfied" that we want to point out, the other two occurrences come one from a copy of Q Document (6:21), the other from Mark (9:17) in the account of the feeding of the crowd. Of course, this word comes into play in a context of being hungry.

keratiōn (carob pods)
This is a unique word in the whole Bible: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. The carob is the edible fruit of the carob tree, a long, flat, leathery pod containing a pulp with a mild, sweet flavor. It is dark reddish-brown in color and slightly purplish when ripe. The carob tree grows abundantly in Syria, the Greek islands and Cyprus. Even today, the fruit is used to feed pigs. But why did the youngest child start to desire the pigs' food? It seems that his master, who housed him, gave him the bare minimum, especially in times of famine, and that he envied the abundance of food to which the pigs were entitled. By presenting a situation where a human being is treated much less than an animal, the author underlines his degradation.

ēsthion (they were eating)
We have already analyzed esthiō in v. 2. But let us just point out that references to animals eating are very rare in the gospels. Apart from this passage, there is only this mention of dogs eating what falls from the table (Mk 7:28 || Mt 15:27).

oudeis (no one)
With oudeis (none, no one, nothing) we have an extremely common indefinite pronoun in the gospels and Acts: Mt = 45; Mk = 35; Lk = 54; Jn = 66; Acts = 36. Once again, the scene presents a world without pity which accentuates the distress of the youngest son.

Adjective oudeis in Luke
v. 17 After stepping back to reflect, he said to himself, 'How many (posoi) of my father's employees have all the bread they want, while I'm starving'.

Literally: Then, into himself having come (eis heauton de elthōn), he was saying (ephē), how many hired servants (misthioi) of the father of me have abundance (perisseuontai) breads (artōn), then, I, here (hōde) I perish (apollymai) of hunger (limō).

eis heauton de elthōn (into himself having come)
The expression "eis heauton elthōn" is quite unique: it means to enter into oneself, to experience awareness, to make a personal reflection. No equivalent will be found in the gospels and it must be attributed to the source Luke uses. Thus, the very fact that the younger touches the shallows or hits a wall forces him to reflect.

ephē (he was saying)
This is a fairly common verb (Mt = 16; Mk = 6; Lk = 8; Jn = 3; Acts = 25) which means: to say, to declare, to affirm, to think, to suppose. When we consider Acts, Luke uses it profusely. In his gospel, it is less frequent, but of the 8 occurrences, 7 come from his pen. In short, it is part of his vocabulary. Here it is used to describe an inner conversation.

posoi (how many)
The interrogative pronoun posos (how much, how big) is indeed present in the gospels: Mt = 7; Mk = 6; Lk = 6; Jn = 0; Acts = 1. But it is concentrated in certain scenes. For example, of the 6 occurrences in Mark, 4 are found in the two scenes of the feeding of the crowd (6:38; 8:5.19.20) and Matthew uses three of these occurrences (15:34; 16:9-10). Although he uses it once in Acts (21:20), Luke does not seem to like the word: of 6 occurrences in his gospel, three appear in two parables from one source (15:17; 16:5.7), and the others come from the Q Document (Matthew, who does not seem to like the word, would have eliminated it from his version of the Q Document). This interrogative pronoun sets the stage for a comparison between the situation of the younger and that of subordinates in his father's house. This shows the state of his mental deterioration: for he does not even dare to compare his state with that which he had at his father's.

misthioi (hired servants)
This is a very rare word which appears only in this parable in the gospels: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. In the Old Testament, it is found almost exclusively in Sirach. It means: employee, worker who has been hired. It does not mean a slave, but someone who is paid for his work, often translated as mercenary. But in the context of the first century, it seems that the wage earner had a lower social status than the slave. For the latter had a master who provided for him, and some were educated and given important responsibilities. Wage earners, on the other hand, were day laborers who had to fend for themselves to survive. Some were uneducated and even homeless. They were often given thankless tasks for a lousy salary. This is the situation of the younger with the pigs. Note that the Old Testament feels the need to protect these people: You shall not exploit your neighbor or rob him: the laborer's wages shall not remain with you until the morning (Lev 19:13). In short, what the younger man is saying is this: I will continue to be a wage earner, but at least my conditions will be better with my father.

perisseuontai (they have abundance)
The verb perisseuō means: to be in addition, to be left over, to abound, to surpass, to be in abundance, to excel, to overflow. It is present in the gospels (Mt = 6; Mk = 2; Lk = 5; Jn = 2; Acts = 1), especially in the context of the story of Jesus feeding the crowds: Mk 8:8; Lk 9:17; Mt 14:20; 15:37; Jn 6:12-13. In Luke, the only passage other than our parable where the evangelist seems to add this word is in the introduction to the parable of the rich fool (12:15). Otherwise, the word comes from the Q Document and Mark. Thus, one can easily imagine that he receives the expression from its source. But the point is that the youngest child clearly perceives that his father is more generous to his employees than what he is currently experiencing.

Verb perisseuō in the Gospels-Acts
artōn (breads)
Bread is the basis of food and it is not surprising to see it everywhere in the gospels: Mt = 20; Mk = 21; Lk = 14; Jn = 24; Acts = 5. Luke does not use it extensively, and insists on using it to refer to the breaking of bread at the Eucharist (24: 25.30). In the ordinary use of the word bread, the parable of the unwelcomed friend who asks for bread in the middle of the night (11:5) should be mentioned. This is the core of the meal and the basis of survival. It will have been noted that what motivates the younger man's reflection is not at all the desire to see his father again, but the desire to appease his hunger.

limō (hunger)
We have already analyzed limos (famine) above. Let us add that our passage is the only one in the gospels where the word is translated not as famine, but as hunger.

hōde (here)
The adverb hōde means: here, so, in this way, as the following. It is quite common in the gospels: Mt = 18; Mk = 10; Lk = 15; Jn = 5; Acts = 2. When we examine the passages in which Luke uses it, we note that, out of 15 occurrences, 10 appear in sections that are his own, or else were added by his pen: a typical case is the account of the healing of the epileptic, which he borrows from Mark, but inserts this phrase: Bring here (hōde) your son (9:41). Yet elsewhere the adverb appears in passages from the Q Document and in passages where he copies Mark, so that it is impossible to draw a conclusion: the word may as well come from the source or from his pen. In any case, the adverb here serves to designate his environment as vile.

apollymai (I perish)
We have already analyzed this word. But it is necessary to underline that it returns eight times throughout our pericope like a leitmotif. It is one of the major themes.

v. 18 So I'll get up to go to my father, and I'll say, 'Dad, I have sinned against God and against you,

Literally: Having risen up (anastas) I will go towards the father of me and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned (hēmarton) into the heaven and before (enōpion) you,

anastas (Having risen up)
The verb anistēmi is composed of two words, ana (up) and histēmi (to set up, place, support), and thus means: to set up, to stand up, to rise, to cause to rise, to arouse, to awaken, to resurrect. In the whole of the Gospels-Acts, it is used 113 times: Mt = 8; Mk = 20; Lk = 31; Jn = 9; Acts = 45. As one notices, Luke uses it intensively. But when we examine his gospel, we notice that it follows the usual sentence structures among the evangelists: of the 31 occurrences, the verb appears 20 times to introduce an action in the form: having risen (anistēmi) he went, a structure found throughout the gospels; as is the case here with "having risen I will go." Ten other times, the verb is used to speak of the resurrection of Christ, as is done in the other gospels. Thus, we find in this parable a very common form of expression. However, we cannot ignore the fact that behind the action of getting up in this situation of distress, the symbolism of the resurrection is present.

hēmarton (I have sinned)
The verb hamartanō means: to miss the mark, to go the wrong way, to fail to achieve one's goals, to go awry, to fail to obtain, to be deprived of, to neglect, to err, to sin. Unlike the word sinner, either the noun or the adjective, the verb to sin is not so frequent: Mt = 3; Mk = 0; Lk = 4; Jn = 4; Acts = 1. In Luke, two occurrences of the verb occur in our parable, the other two coming from the Q Document (17:3), the other from a particular source (17:4). These last two cases seem to come from a Christian context with the mention of "brothers", as do two cases in Matthew (18:15.21). In any case, it is primarily about offending a person, with the preposition eis (into). Here, it is more about committing an offense against heaven, and thus against God. This is the only time in the entire New Testament where we have the expression: sin against God. This raises the question: in what way did the younger sin against God? No doubt he broke the commandment: honor your father and your mother (Ex 20:12). By immediately asking for his inheritance, he considered his father already dead, and by squandering the estate, he did not value what came from him. Finally, by cutting his ties with the father, by debasing himself to the point of becoming a wage earner, and thus debasing his being as a son, is it not his father that he debases in his role as father?

enōpion (before)
The preposition enōpion (before, in front of, under the gaze of) appears almost exclusively in Luke in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 22; Jn = 1; Acts = 13. And of the 35 occurrences in Luke, 13 appear in the expression "before God" or "before the Lord". So our parable presents something paradoxical, a reversal of roles: whereas usually in the gospels one offends a person before God, here one offends God before a person. One can suspect the seriousness of the fault and its public character. The fact remains that it is not the father that the son regrets having offended, but God.
v. 19 and I have no right to be your son, but hire me as one of your servants'.

Literally: no longer (ouketi) I am worthy (axios) to be called (klēthēnai) son of you. Make me like (poiēson me hōs) one of the hired servants of you.

ouketi (no longer)
The adverb ouketi means: no longer, not yet, not now. In general, it is a negation to say that an action or situation has ceased. In the gospels, we find this adverb in Mark and especially in John through Jesus' farewell speech where he announces that he will not be seen again: Mt = 2; Mk = 7; Lk = 3; Jn = 12; Acts = 3. In Luke's gospel, of the three occurrences, two are found in our parable, and the third is a borrowing from Mark (20:40). This means that the adverb does not play any particular role in his parable, and therefore probably comes from his source: the situation of son has ceased to exist.

axios (worthy)
The adjective axios means: that which is valuable, that which is worthy, that which is equivalent to, that which is worthy of. So there is an idea of comparison in this adjective. We find some of this idea when Luke puts this word in the mouth of John the Baptist: Produce therefore fruits worthy (axios) of repentance (Lk 3:8), literally: produce therefore fruits comparable or equivalent to your repentance. It is the same idea when translated with "deserving": for the laborer deserves his wages (Lk 10:7). The word is quite frequent in Luke: Mt = 9; Mk = 0; Lk = 8; Jn = 1; Acts = 7. Despite the fact that of the 25 occurrences in the Gospels-Acts, Luke presents 15, we do not think that Luke introduced this word in the parable. Indeed, the word is used in the Document Q (Lk 3:8), and Matthew uses it cheerfully; we do not see a particularly Lucan touch here. On the other hand, he probably put the expression axios thanatou (deserving of death: Lk 23:15) into the mouth of the "good" criminal, an expression found 4 times in Acts. Thus, the younger son recognizes that he no longer deserves the title of son. This is far from the idea that the simple bond of blood guarantees filiation with his father: there must be some equivalence between the situation of the son and the situation of the father, and this equivalence has been lost by the son.

klēthēnai (to be called)
The verb kaleō means: to call, summon, invite, name, claim. It is frequent: Mt = 24; Mk = 4; Lk = 42; Jn = 2; Acts = 18. And as we can see, it is in Luke that it is the most frequent. In particular, he uses 23 times (12 in the Gospels, 11 in Acts) the expression "being called" (kaloumenos, the present passive participle of kaleō : for example: Simon called the Zealot, a town called Nain, Mary, called the Magdalene, a sister called Mary, a man called by the name of Zacchaeus, near the Mount called of Olives, arriving at the place called Skull), an expression that he is the only one who uses in all the gospels. This is a clear case of Luke editing his sources. But in the parable of the younger son, it is klēthēnai that we have twice, the verb kaleō in the aorist passive infinitive and which only reappears in Acts (1:19) in the entire New Testament. What to conclude? It is possible that Luke retouches his source with his style. But the evidence is very thin. In any case, the meaning of the phrase is clear: the younger son no longer deserves the title of son. And to lose his name is to lose his identity.

Verb kaleō in the Gospels-Acts
poiēson me hōs (make me like)
As in English, the verb poieō (to make, produce, create, cause, accomplish, complete, realize, perform) is so frequent that it appears in every chapter of the New Testament writings, and even several times per chapter: Mt = 86; Mk = 45; Lk = 88; Jn = 108; Acts = 68. But what interests us here is the expression: poieō me hōs, i.e. make me like, in other words: treat me like. We have a verb, here in the imperative, followed by a personal pronoun and the conjunction of comparison. There is no equivalent in the rest of the gospels; in fact, the closest expression is found in Matthew 21:36: they treated them likewise (epoiēsan autois hōsautōs). One would therefore be inclined to think that the whole phrase is from the original source. And the meaning of the sentence is oblique: having lost his old identity, he offers a new one, that of being a wage earner or day laborer in the service of his father.

v. 20 Then he gets up to go to his father. But as he is still far away, his father sees him at a distance and is upset to the very heart. He immediately runs to him and throws himself on his neck to kiss him.

Literally: And having risen up (anastas) he went (ēlthen) towards the father of himself. Then, yet (eti) himself being distant (apechontos) by far (makran), the father of him saw (eiden) him and was moved with compassion (esplanchnisthē) and, having run (dramōn), he fell upon (epepesen) the neck (trachēlon) of him and kissed (katephilēsen) him.

anastas ēlthen (having risen up he went)
We have already analyzed above the verb anistēmi, especially when it is followed by a verb, a usual turn of phrase in the gospels to translate the beginning of an action: one gets up to act. Here, we only want to point out a structure that is also frequent in the stories: an intention is followed by an action, i.e. a character expresses his intention to do something, and this is followed by implementing the intention using more or less the same words.

eti (yet)
The adverb eti (already, still, yet, no longer) appears regularly in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 8; Mk = 5; Lk = 16; Jn = 8; Acts = 5. It will be noticed that Luke uses it the most. But it is a fairly common adverb and one can hardly draw any conclusion, even though on a few occasions Luke adds eti to his Marcan source (see the discussion with the Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead while Mark, copied by Matthew, presents the phrase: neither they marry nor are married, but they are like angels (Mk 12:25 || Mt 22:30), while Luke adds after "married": and indeed they can no longer (eti) die (Lk 20:36)). On the other hand, when we look at the structure of the sentence, we notice a rather unique structure: an adverb (eti: yet), followed by a personal pronoun (autos: he), followed by another adverb (makran: by far), followed by a present participle verb (apechō : being distant). The only other similar case in the Gospels is found in Luke (14:32) in the previous chapter where Jesus compares the demands to follow him to a king gone to war and, seeing that he cannot overcome and seeing the enemy, and yet him being far (eti autou porrō ontos, i. e. adverb (eti: yet), followed by a personal pronoun (autos: him), followed by another adverb (porrō: far), followed by a present participle verb (ontos: being)). How to explain the similarity between the two texts? Two texts from the same source? An intervention from the pen of Luke? Difficult to answer.

makran (by far)
The adverb makran, which occurs infrequently in the Gospels (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 3; Jn = 1; Acts = 2) and in the New Testament as a whole, means: far away, a great distance, at length. There is no overlap between the different occurrences of the adverb in the Gospels-Acts. In the parable of the younger son, it expresses the intensity of the father's expectation, which is so strong that it is able to see the smallest detail in the distance.

apechontos (being distant)
Here is another infrequent verb (Mt = 5; Mk = 2; Lk = 4; Jn = 0; Acts = 2) which means: not to approach, to abstain from, to prevent, to be far from, to obtain, to receive fully from. Here again, Luke is not the only one to use this word. And of his 4 occurrences, one comes from Mark, two come from sources of his own, and one appears to be an addition to the Q Document. In the latter case, the account of the healing of the centurion's slave, we find the negative expression ou makran apechontos (not being distant by far), while in the parable of the younger son we have the affirmative expression: makran apechontos (being distant by far). If it is Luke who modifies the Q Document in this way, did he do the same with the parable of the younger son? It is possible, without being able to have a definite conclusion.

eiden (he saw)
The verb horaō means: to see, to look, to aim, to perceive, to observe, to notice, to discern, to watch. It is so frequent that we cannot conclude anything in particular: Mt = 76; Mk = 60; Lk = 81; Jn = 83; Acts = 72.

esplanchnisthē (he was moved with compassion)
This is a very rare verb in the whole Bible and in the Greco-Roman world: Mt = 5; Mk = 4; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. It means: to have pity, to be moved with compassion, to have bowels. It was Mark who introduced the word, first to describe Jesus' feelings towards a leper who begged him (1:41), then to describe his feelings towards the crowd who were like a flock without a shepherd (6:34), and who had nothing to eat after having listened to him for three days (8:2). But there is also in his gospel the case of the father of an epileptic child who asks Jesus to have mercy (splanchnizomai) on him and his child (9: 22). Matthew will repeat Marcan passages where the expression occurs three times, first duplicating Jesus' attitude toward the crowd in the first feeding of the loaves (9:36 and 14:4), and then repeating his attitude in the second feeding of the loaves (15:32). The other two occurrences are in the parable of the insolvent debtor where the king is moved to pity (18:27) and in Jesus' encounter with two blind men for whom he is moved to pity (20:34). In Luke, all three occurrences appear in passages of his own: the raising of the widow of Nain when Jesus is moved with compassion by her grief (7:13), in the parable of the Good Samaritan when the latter is moved with compassion by the man left half-dead (10:33), and in our parable of the younger son. All this suggests that Luke would have received this word from his sources. But the message is striking: by being moved to the core, the father shows how much he loved his son.

dramōn (having run)
The verb trechō means: to move quickly, to run. Generally speaking, there is no running in the Gospels: Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 2; Acts = 0. Knowing that men and women wore loose robes or tunics, it is easy to imagine that it was difficult to run. Nevertheless, we have some scenes of running. In Mark, a possessed of an unclean spirit runs to Jesus' foot to beg him not to torment him (5: 6) and in the scene of the cross someone runs dipping a sponge in vinegar when Jesus gives a loud cry with the word Eli from Psalm 22 (15:36); in both cases the atmosphere is one of intense emotion and great agitation. Matthew repeats the scene of the cross as it is (27:48), but there is also the scene of the women at the empty tomb who run full of joy to bring the good news to the disciples (28:8); in the latter case, it is great joy that makes one run. In John, both occurrences appear after Jesus' death: it is first Mary who runs to Peter and the other disciple to announce that the tomb is empty, and that Jesus' body may have been stolen (20:2), and it is then Peter and the beloved disciple who run to the empty tomb to check things out (20:4); in both cases, the running is motivated by the intensity of their love for Jesus. Finally, in Luke, apart from this parable of the younger man, there is this scene which is a variant of John's, where Peter runs to the tomb (24:12); again, in both, it is love that makes one run.

epepesen (he fell upon)
The verb epipiptō means: to fall upon, to throw oneself upon, to bend over, to attack, to assail. It is almost absent from the gospels: Mt = 0; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 6. In Mark, people throw themselves upon Jesus to be healed (3:10). In Luke, apart from our parable, the word appears only in the infancy narrative when fear fell Zacharias at the sight of the angel (1: 12). We would therefore be looking at a single verb from a particular source. Yet Acts mentions three times that the Spirit fell on people (8: 16; 10: 44; 11: 15), then that fear fell upon the people of Ephesus, then that Paul fell upon the man perceived to be dead (20: 10), and most importantly, during Paul's farewell address in Miletus (20: 37), that the sobbing people throw themselves (epiptō) at the neck (trachēlos) of Paul to kiss him (kataphileō). Here is a phrase that is virtually identical to the one in the parable of the younger son. It is hard to deny that we are in the midst of Luke's language, and that he undoubtedly marked with his pen what he received from his source.

trachēlon (neck)
As one might guess, trachēlos (neck, nape of the neck) is a rare word throughout the New Testament: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 2 (outside of these authors, it appears only in Romans 16:4). If it were not for the passage in Mark 9:42 on scandals (it would be better for him to have one of those millstones passed around his neck), taken up by Matthew 18:6 and Luke 17:2, we would have only the parable of the younger son and the two passages in Acts to mention the existence of the neck. But it is only the scene of the father around the neck of the younger son and the scene of the people sobbing around Paul's neck (Acts 20:37) that should be pointed out, which emphasize the neck in a positive context of a great gesture of affection (otherwise the neck is used to kill someone, as in the passages on scandal, or Paul's remark in Rom 16:4 about the people who offered their necks to save his life, or to put a yoke on it in order to suffocate him with obligations, as Acts 15:10 points out). Whether the act of throwing oneself around someone's neck is appropriate or not, it matters little to a father who agrees to let his love overflow.

katephilēsen (he kissed)
Kataphileō means: to embrace, give a kiss, caress. In the entire New Testament, it appears only in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Acts = 1. And if it were not for Luke, we would know only Judas' kiss for this verb. Indeed, Mk 14:45 (Rabbi, and Judas gave him a kiss (kataphileō)) was taken up almost as it was by Mt 26:49. Note that Luke refuses to use kataphileō for Judas' kiss (he uses phileō : to love, to give a mark of affection, instead). Why? What is clear is that he is keen to reserve kataphileō for gestures of genuine love and great affection (the sinner who covers Jesus' feet with kisses (7:38.45), the father who kisses his youngest son, and the sobbing people who kiss Paul goodbye (Acts 20:37)). We can also conjecture that Judas' gesture was so disgusting and vile that it did not deserve the beautiful word of kataphileō. Finally, let us note that the gesture of kissing one's parents, brothers, children and friends is very well known in the Old Testament:
  • Laban blames Jacob for not giving him the chance to kiss his sons and daughters (Gen 31:28)
  • Joseph covers all his brothers with kisses and cries as he embraces them (Gen 45: 15)
  • Elisha asks Elijah to kiss his father and mother before following him (1 Kings 19: 20)
  • Aaron goes to meet Moses and kisses him (Ex 4:27)
  • David kisses his son Absalom (2 Sam 14: 33)
  • To compete in the court of King David his father, Absalom challenged people to a better judgment, and if the person bowed to him, he kissed him (2 Sam 15:5)

v. 21 And the son said to him, 'Dad, I have sinned against God and against you, I have no right to be called your son'.

Literally: Then, he said the son of him, Father, I have sinned into the heaven and before you. No longer I am worthy to be called son of you.

 
The only reason we stop at this verse is to point out that it is simply the enactment of the younger son's statement expressed in vv. 18-19. Let's compare the statement and the action with the literal translation.

PurposeImplementation
Father, I have sinned into the heaven and before you. No longer I am worthy to be called son of you.Father, I have sinned into the heaven and before you. No longer I am worthy to be called son of you
Make me like one of the hired servants of you.

As one can notice, the first part of the action is identical to the purpose, i.e. not only the recognition of the fault, but the recognition of the gravity of the fault, and of its consequences, the loss of the identity of son. But the second part diverges, the one that could be called the punishment or the implementation of the judgment: it is totally absent from the action. Why is this? The next verse gives us the answer: the father interrupts the son's talk to implement the restoration of his dignity as a son and to begin the celebration. What does this mean? If the father correctly reflects the image of God, it means that there is never any punishment from God. If there is a recognition of one's fault and a desire to rectify one's way, it is a total acceptance that follows. What would have happened if the younger man had not made this inner reflection and had persisted in his way? We have no parable to tell us, but we can be sure that the father would not have tried to add anything to his son's misfortune; he would have remained his son no matter what. Here we see the great difference between the world of men and the world of God: in the world of men punishment is carried out in an effort to establish an equivalence between the punishment and the fault, hoping to create a dissuasive effect; in the world of God there seems to be only the desire for rehabilitation.

v. 22 Immediately the father speaks to his servants to ask them, 'Quickly, bring the most beautiful coat to put on, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his foot.

Literally: Then the father said towards the servants (doulous) of him, quickly (tachy) bring out (exenenkate) the first (prōtēn) robe (stolēn) and clothe (endysate) him and give ring (daktylion) into the hand (cheira) of him and sandals (hypodēmata) into his feet (podas).

doulous (servants)
The word doulos means: slave, servant, auxiliary, subordinate, and it is very present in the gospels: Mt = 30; Mk = 5; Lk = 28; Jn = 11; Acts = 4. It is difficult to translate, since it is a social category that no longer exists today. To translate it as slave does not do justice to the word, for immediately we think of the blacks working in the cotton fields in the United States. Of course, these were people who were not paid. But their master took care of them, educated them, cared for them and gave them great responsibilities. We know the names of some of them, like Onesimus, a slave of Philemon, who became a Christian and took care of Paul (Philemon 1:10-17). One was born a slave, the son or daughter of slave parents, and one would die a slave, unless one had the means to become a free person (see 1 Corinthians 7:21 where Paul recommends that slaves remain in their condition). In short, in Judaism and in the Greco-Roman world, being born a slave or a servant was part of the social reality and did not necessarily have a negative connotation. This is what we see in Luke:
  • The centurion asks Jesus to come and take care of a slave who is dear to him and in bad shape (7, 2-10)
  • In the absence of the master, it is a slave who manages his domain and who must take care of everything like a good manager; he is like his right-hand man with important responsibilities (12: 37-47; see also 19: 13-22)
  • It is the slave who is in charge of carrying out the master's order and who has his authority delegated to him (14: 17-23)
  • At the same time, he cannot claim any salary or recognition, because it is part of his being to serve (17: 7-10)

The lack of negative perception of this social reality can be observed in the fact that Mary defines herself before the angel Gabriel as the slave (doulos) of the Lord (1:38.48), as well as Simeon, all happy to have seen the messiah (2:29). In short, the father of the younger son, no doubt like any landowner, owns slaves. We have preferred to translate doulos as servant rather than slave, to avoid this negative connotation.

tachy (quickly)
The adjective tachys means: swift, quick, prompt, hasty, brisk. It occurs only a few times in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 3; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 3; Acts = 4. It has no special role, other than to translate the haste to perform an action, for example to announce that Jesus has risen (Mt 28:7-8). In Luke, it describes God's haste to answer the believer's prayer (18:8). In the parable of the youngest son, it describes the father's haste to rehabilitate his son and to celebrate, so great is his joy.

exenenkate (bring out)
This word is formed from the preposition ek (from, coming from) and the verb pherō (to carry, bring, produce, bear, carry away), and is usually translated as: to carry out, to produce, to bring out, to deliver. But it is almost absent from the New Testament. Apart from 1 Tim 6:7 and Heb 6:8, it appears only in Luke: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 3. In Acts, the 3 occurrences only serve to describe the fact that the body of Ananias and Sapphira is taken away (ekpherō). Thus, the word in the father's mouth has a unique character, in that no other example can be found in the New Testament. And probably, if we wanted to translate it literally and render the preposition ek in the verb, we would have to say: bring out the garment, as one would bring out a garment that has been stored for some time in the mothballs.

stolēn (robe)
The word stolē means: garment, falling garment, robe, long robe. Only Mark and Luke use it: Mt = 0; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. In Mark it appears in two scenes, one concerning the scribes who like to go around in "long robes" (Mk 12:38: the text simply has stolē, but the translators feel the need to translate as long robes to convey the idea of a ceremonial garment), and the other describing the presence of a young man in a white robe (stolē) at the empty tomb after the resurrection (Mk 16:5). Luke (20:46) took up Mark's scene of the scribes with long robes, and then presents us with the parable of the younger son. In the Old Testament, the word designates, among other things, the garment of the high priest (see for example Ex 28:4). In short, the garment that the father asks the servant to wear is a garment of pomp and ceremony.

See the glossary on clothing in the New Testament

Noun stolē in the New Testament

prōtēn (first)
The adjective prōtos (principal, major, first, which is before, beginning) is quite frequent: Mt = 16; Mk = 10; Lk = 10; Jn = 6; Acts = 12. Very often, it is translated by the numerical adjective "first" (for example, first in relation to the last), otherwise it is translated by "leader" to describe the men and women who are first in a society, or by "before" in the chronological and hierarchical order (in particular in John to describe the relationship between Jesus and the Baptist). Here, in the parable of the younger man most Bibles translate prōtos as: finest or best robe, to convey the idea that the garment is first (see the translations). Thus, this is a unique case that tells us that the narrative probably comes from a source on which Luke depends.

endysate (clothe)
The verb endyō means: to clothe, to put on, to dress, to get into. One could say that Luke doesn't like to talk much about clothing: Mt = 3; Mk = 3; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. Aside from the story of the younger son, we find endyō at the end of his gospel in the mouth of Jesus when he asks his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they are clothed (endyō) with power from on high (24:49). Thus, he ignores that scene in Mark 15:20 where they take off the purple garment with which they had clothed Jesus to mock before putting his clothes back on. And if we only had Luke's gospel, we would not know that John the Baptist was dressed in camel skin (Mk 1:6). Of course, he takes up the mission instructions of Mark 6:9, which asks the disciples not to have two tunics, but without talking about putting them on, but rather as the contents of the luggage. Thus, the scene of the father asking to clothe his son has something truly unique about it, undoubtedly coming from his source, which he accepts as it is.

daktylion (ring)
There is little to say about daktylios, for it is a unique word in the whole New Testament: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. It means: ring, signet. But the ring is of course known in the Jewish world as the Old Testament reveals. But the passages that shed the most light on our story are the following:
  • Gen 41: 42 (LXX): Then, Pharaoh removing the ring (daktylios) from his hand (cheir), put it in Joseph's hand; he clothed him (endyō) with a robe (stolē) of fine linen, and put a golden necklace around his neck
  • Esther 3: 10 (LXX): And the king taking off his ring (daktylios) gave it to Aman to seal the edict against the Jews.
  • Esther 8: 2 (LXX): And the king took the ring (daktylios) which he had taken from Aman and he gave it to Mordecai; and the queen appointed him to administer the goods of Aman.

It is therefore a gesture where authority is handed over to someone. Thus, the father gives back to his son all his rights as a son.

cheira (hand)
The word cheir is literally translated as hand or arm. This is seen in the gospels: Mt = 24; Mk = 26; Lk = 26; Jn = 15; Acts = 45. But what is surprising at first sight is that, to be precise, the parable of the younger son should have spoken of the ring on the finger, not the ring on the hand. For the word finger does exist in Greek: daktylos. And all the gospels know this word: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 3; Jn = 3; Acts = 0. We must deduce that for the parable, technical precision was not important. In fact, it is the hand that is important, since the hand is a symbol of power, the hand through which the Lord acts (Lk 1:66), the hand of the enemy from which one prays to be delivered (1:71.74). Thus, by putting the ring on the hand, we give it back its power and its authority, even if in fact it is on the finger that we put the ring.

Noun cheir in Luke
hypodēmata (sandals)
The Gospels-Acts concentrate all the mentions of sandals in the New Testament: Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 4; Jn = 1; Acts = 2. Beyond their aid to walking, the sandals have a symbolic value. First of all, in themselves they represent an object of little value, so that Abram can say to the king of Sodom: not a thread nor a sandal strap, I will take nothing of what is yours, and you will not be able to say, I have made Abram rich (Gen 14:23). We understand the hyperbole when Mark has John the Baptist say, Comes behind me one who is stronger than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy, bending down, to untie (Mk 1:7); John the Baptist is unworthy of touching the object on Jesus that has the least possible value. At the same time, wearing sandals is the symbol of the free, autonomous and dignified man, so that in the presence of God, to express submission, they are removed: Yahweh said to Moses, "Do not come near here, take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground (Ex 3:5). On the other hand, the poor and the slaves do not wear sandals, and it is without sandals that the disciples of Jesus must proclaim the good news: Take no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one on the way (Lk 10:4). If we were to remove from the Gospels-Acts the passages that refer to the unworthiness of the Baptist to untie the straps of Jesus' sandals, or to the instructions of the Christian's mission connected to the sandals, or to the allusion to Yahweh's word to Moses to remove his sandals, all that would remain would be the parable of the youngest son. This is a unique case where the value of sandals is insisted upon to give someone back his dignity.

podas (fee)
There is little to say here about this familiar word from the gospels-Acts (Mt = 10; Mk = 6; Lk = 9; Jn = 14; Acts = 19), except that it is not essential to the understanding of the story: it is obvious that sandals go on the feet, and one would have understood the sentence: give him sandals, without the addition: on the feet. Was the mention of feet in the original source? Or did Luke add it according to his habit of specifying things? The answer to this question is not important for our analysis.

v. 23 Bring the calf also being fattened, cut it down, and party with a banquet:

Literally: Bring (pherete) the calf (moschon) the fattened (siteuton), kill (thysate), and having eaten, we would be merry (euphranthōmen).

pherete (bring)
The verb pherō (to carry, to bear, to bring, to come with, to produce, to carry away) is common throughout the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 2; Mk = 15; Lk = 4; Jn = 16; Acts = 9 and is not especially favored by Luke. In his gospel, a paralytic is carried (5:18), Simon of Cyrene carries Jesus' cross (23:26), the women carry spices (24:1), and here in the parable, the father asks to bring a calf.
ton moschon ton siteuton (the calf the fattened)
The noun moschos (calf, young bull) and the adjective siteutos (fattened, force-fed) always appear together in the gospels and only in this parable of the younger son (moschos will appear alone in Heb 9:12.19 and Rev 4:7). In the Near East, the calf was a choice food reserved for special occasions. Thus Abraham, at the oak of Mambre, when he receives a visit from Yahweh in the form of three men, has a beautiful little tender calf prepared (Gen 18:7). And it seems that one of the calves was chosen to be fattened and given special attention. This is echoed in Jeremiah, who sarcastically mocks mercenaries who were fed like a fattened calf and yet decamped when threatened (Jer 46:21). The calf could be fattened for seven years and was worthy of being offered to Yahweh in holocaust (Jdg 6:25-28). This means that a unique occasion was needed to eat the calf that had been fattened for several years. For the father, this unique occasion was the return of his son.

thysate (kill)
The verb thyō means: to sacrifice, immolate, slaughter. Throughout the New Testament, it is applied only to the slaughter of animals. Apart from two occurrences in the first epistle to the Corinthians (5:7; 10:20), it appears only in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 4; Jn = 1; Acts = 4. In Luke, although there are four occurrences, there are actually two passages, that of the parable of the younger son where the verb appears three times, and Luke's (22:7) repetition of a Marcan text mentioning the day of unleavened bread, where the passover was to be immolated (thyō). Thus, the verb thyō does not really belong to Luke's vocabulary, but to that of the parable, just as it does in Matthew, where it appears in the parable of the king who arranges a wedding feast for his son (22:4) and has his fat animals slaughtered (sitistos, a synonym for siteutos).

euphranthōmen (we would be merry)
The verb euphrainō (to celebrate, to cheer up, to rejoice) appears only under the pen of Luke in the gospel-Acts: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 6; Jn = 0; Acts = 2. Some might conclude that we have here an insertion of Luke in his source, especially since Luke is the evangelist of joy par excellence. But when we look a little closer, we must admit that it is rather likely that the six occurrences of euphrainō in his gospel come from his sources: for euphrainō appears four times in the parable of the younger son, had appeared earlier in the parable of the rich fool who feasted (12:19), and will reappear in the next chapter (16:19) in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man who had great feasts. We are far from the joy of the Gospel. And the two occurrences in Acts are first a citation from Psalm 16, then an allusion to Ex 31 (the celebrations around the golden calf) in the mouth of Stephen. So it is better to conclude that the celebration organized by the father is part of the original parable.

v. 24 For this son was dead, he is now alive, he was lost, he is now found'. And they started to celebrate.

Literally: For this son of me was dead (nekros) and has lived again (anezēsen), he was has been lost (apolōlōs), and was found (heurethē), and they began (ērxanto) to be merry (euphrainesthai).

nekros (dead)
The noun nekros refers to the dead or inanimate body, the corpse, a dying person. In the Gospels-Acts, it is very present because of the expression "resurrection of the dead": Mt = 12; Mk = 7; Lk = 14; Jn = 8; Acts = 17. When all the occurrences of the word are grouped together, three contexts are noted: a general context of the resurrection of the dead, a context of physical death or near physical death, and finally a symbolic context (i.e. a situation comparable to death). In Luke, of the 14 occurrences, nine refer to the resuscitation of the dead (e.g., Go report to John...the dead rise: 7:22), three refer to physical death (e.g., the account of the resuscitation of son of the widow of Nain in 7:15: And the dead man stood up on his feet and began to speak), and two refer to symbolic death and which are concentrated here, in the parable of the younger son. Also, this symbolic death, i.e. the son had died in his identity as a son, probably belongs to the original source.

anezēsen (he has lived again)
This verb is formed from the preposition ana which describes a movement from bottom to top and the verb zaō which means: to live. It is therefore translated as to revive, to come to life again, to go back to life. Now, this verb appears only here in the whole Bible: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. It could reveal an archaic form of returning to life. The probability is very high that it comes from the original source. As death had a symbolic value, so this return to life also has a symbolic value: the son has regained his identity as a son, relations are re-established with the father.

apolōlōs... heurethē (he was has been lost... he was found)
This is the conclusion of the parable. This conclusion is similar to the others in this pericope:
  • 15: 6: I have found (heuriskō) the sheep of me the having been lost (apollymi)
  • 15: 9: I have found (heuriskō) the drachma that I lost (apollymi)
  • 15: 24: he was has been lost (apollymi) and he was found (heuriskō)

Two points can be made: the conclusion on the story of the younger son reverses the order "found / lost" by respecting more the chronological order, i.e. one is first lost before being found, then the verb heuriskō is now in the passive: this is understandable, because the father did not take any steps to look for his son; he was content to wait. It is possible that the setting that gave us this parable of the younger son is different from that of the first two parables.

ērxanto... euphrainesthai (they began... to be merry)
We have already analyzed archō and euphrainō to conclude that, in their previous context, they could belong to the original source. Yet this sentence here follows what we saw in the previous sentence as the conclusion of the parable of the younger son, and it precedes the next verse which appears as a new parable, that of the elder son. It is a transitional sentence.

v. 25 But the eldest son was still in the field. As he approached the house, he heard the music and the dance steps.

Literally: Then, the son of him, the elder (presbyteros), was in field (agrō) and as (he) was coming, he drew near to the house; he heard music (symphōnias) and dance (chorōn).

presbyteros (elder)
The adjective presbyteros is the comparative and superlative of presbys (old man), and means: oldest, older, elder, the former, the ancestor, the aged. It occupies a fairly large place: Mt = 12; Mk = 7; Lk = 5; Jn = 1; Acts = 19. But its meaning varies: in 60% of the cases, it designates the group of elders who, with the high priests and scribes, constituted the religious authority in the Jewish world; on a few occasions it designates the ancestors at the origin of a tradition; or the elders in relation to the younger ones; finally, in the Acts of the Apostles, it designates this new group of elders who play a leadership role in the Christian communities with the apostles. In Luke, it always refers to the group of Jewish elders who want to arrest Jesus with the high priests, with the exception of our parable. Note that a presbyteros, i.e. an older one, was to be noted for his greater wisdom than the younger one, hence their role in society.

agrō (field)
We have already analyzed agros in v. 15 to say that it is not a word that belongs to Luke's vocabulary; he seems a man of the city and prefers to speak of a garden rather than a field. But the point here is that the parable introduces this elder son as he works in the field: is this not a symbol of the faithful, serious, hard-working son, a true model? And what a contrast after the story of the younger son who led a dissolute life.

symphōnias... chorōn (music... dance)
The noun symphōnia means: tuning of sounds, musical instrument, orchestra. This Greek word gave our English word: symphony. It will come as no surprise to learn that this is a single occurrence of the word in the entire New Testament. On the other hand, in the book of the prophet Daniel (Theodotion version of the Septuagint), it seems to denote a concert of instruments, after an enumeration of instruments (see Dan 3:5: At the moment you will hear the sound of the trumpet and the flute, the zither, the harp, and the psaltery, and the concert of instruments (symphōnia) and all kinds of music (mousikos)...; see also Dan 3:7.10.15). As for choros, it means: dance, choir, group of dancers and singers. As symphōnia it is only here that it appears in all the New Testament. But it is well known in the Old Testament (see, for example, Ex 15:20: Miryam the prophetess, sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her with tambourines, and dance choirs (choros); or, Psalm 150:4: Praise him with the drum and dance choir (choros); praise him on the strings of instruments). What does all this indicate? Music and dance were part of Jewish culture. And our parable reflects the atmosphere of a festive celebration.

v. 26 So he calls one of the service boys to inquire about what was going on.

Literally: And having summoned (proskalesamenos) one of the young boys (paidōn) he was inquiring (epynthaneto) what perchance (ti an) might be these (things).

proskalesamenos (having summoned)
The verb proskaleō, formed from the preposition pros (towards) and the verb kaleō (to call), means: to summon, to invite, to call to oneself, and appears in all the evangelists except John: Mt = 6; Mk = 9; Lk = 4; Jn = 0; Acts = 10. It expresses the idea of calling someone or a group to say something important or to inquire about something. What is notable in Luke is that of the four occurrences of the word, two appear in a parable (here and 16:5), and two appear to be an addition by Luke, either to a text in Mark (18:6) or to an account from the Q Document (7:18). We can only say that it is a word he is comfortable with. If we look at the scenario of the parable, we might ask: why does he need to ask one of the servants, and not his father directly? The scenario is that the feast is taking place in the house, while servants outside the house were probably not directly involved in supporting the feast. The older son's need to understand is so strong that he first addresses the first servants he sees.

paidōn (young boys)
The name pais refers primarily to a child, whether boy or girl, but also to a servant and a slave. In the Gospels-Acts, it is less frequent than doulos to designate a servant: Mt = 8; Mk = 0; Lk = 9; Jn = 0; Acts = 6. One might ask: what difference is there between pais and doulos when referring to a slave? Indeed, earlier in the parable, the father addressed his "doulos" to dress his son and prepare the feast. Now the older son addresses not a doulos, but a pais. Why? A parable from Luke (12:35-48) may shed some light, that of the servant (doulos) to whom the master entrusts the responsibility of his domain in his absence. Since the master is slow to return, it may happen that the servant (doulos) starts hitting the service boys (pais) and service girls (paidiskē), eating, drinking and getting drunk (12: 45). Thus, there would be a hierarchy in the world of slaves. Moreover, there is never any mention of important responsibilities being entrusted to a pais, as is seen in a doulos. Of course, there are cases where pais refers not to a slave, but to a child (the child Jesus stayed in Jerusalem without his parents' knowledge: Lk 2:43). So the older son is talking to a subordinate slave, who has no significant responsibility in the party, to find out what is going on.

On the child in the New Testament, see the glossary
epynthaneto (he was inquiring)
The verb pynthanomai is used when one wants to obtain information and means: to inquire, to be informed, to find out about. It is a very Lucan word: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 6. In his gospel, apart from our parable, Luke adds this word to the account of the healing of the blind man of Jericho (18: 36). And of course, he uses this verb a number of times in Acts. In the parable of the elder son, it is appropriate in the context to ask what is going on.

ti an (what perchance)
Ti is an interrogative pronoun (what?) and an is a particle that often introduces a conditional or subjunctive clause. The only reason to emphasize ti an is that Luke is the only one to use this construction in the Gospels-Acts (Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Acts = 3), and it bears his signature:

  • Lk 1:62: And the father was asked by signs what perchance (ti an) he wanted the child to be called.
  • Lk 6:11: But they were filled with rage, and they took counsel together as to what perchance (ti an) they might do to Jesus.
  • Lk 15:26: Calling one of the servants, he inquired what perchance (ti an) this could be.
  • Acts 5:24: At this news, the commander of the Temple and the chief priests, all perplexed about them, wondered what perchance (ti an) this could possibly mean.
  • Acts 10:17: All perplexed, Peter was wondering within himself what perchange (ti an) the vision he had just had could mean, when just then the men sent by Cornelius, having inquired about Simon's house, came to the gate.
  • Acts 17:18: There were even Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who approached him. Some said, "What perchange (ti an) would this parrot mean?" Others: "He looks like a preacher of foreign deities," because he was announcing Jesus and the resurrection.

So if Luke uses a source, he doesn't mind editing it.

v. 27 They told him that his brother had come home, and that the father had slaughtered the calf that was being fattened, because he had found him in good health.

Literally: Then, him, he said to him that the brother (adelphos) of you has come (hēkei) and the father of you has killed the calf the fattened for he has received (apelaben) him being healthy (hygiainonta).

adelphos (brother)
The name adelphos is so widespread that it is hardly indicative of editorial work: Mt = 39; Mk = 20; Lk = 24; Jn = 14; Acts = 57. In Luke, as in all the gospels, the word brother designates both blood brothers and brothers in the spiritual sense. In our parable, the brother refers of course to blood ties.

hēkei (he has come)
The verb hēkō means first of all: to have come, to be there, but also to have arrived, to return, to come, to arrive, to happen. It is not very frequent: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 3; Jn = 3; Acts = 0. In John, it refers to the arrival of the hour (2:4), then to the arrival of Jesus in Galilee (4:47), and to his coming from God (8:42). In Mark, it is the context of the scene of the feeding of the crowd as Jesus notes that the people have come from afar (8:3). Matthew is simply repeating a text from the Q Document (8:11), a text also found in Luke (13:29) about the coming of many people to the feast in the kingdom of God. This leaves two texts from Luke, the parable of the elder son and the text of Jesus' announcement that days will come when Jerusalem will be besieged (19:43). We cannot say anything more about this verb in our parable than that it is little used. But it does capture the idea of someone who was expected, and who has finally arrived.

and the father of you has killed the calf the fattened
We have already analyzed this vocabulary. But we just want to point out the conciseness of the young boy's answer. Why all this noise? The calf we were fattening has just been slaughtered. It is a very superficial image, but very clear.

hygiainonta (being healthy)
The verb hygiainō means: to be healthy, to be sound. This Greek word has given us our English word: hygiene. In the Gospels, it is found only in Luke: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. Despite its rarity, it is a word that he likes. To be convinced of this, we need only observe how he modifies the sentence in Mark 2:17: It is not the capable (hoi ischyontes) who need a doctor, which becomes in him (5:31): It is not the healthy (hoi hygienontes) who need a doctor. Again, we have Luke's touch in our parable. Note that it does not say: relations have been restored with his son; but physically he is fine. The young boy has a superficial perception of things.

apelaben (he has received)
The verb apolambanō is composed of the preposition apo (from) and the verb lambanō (to receive) and means: to recover, to take back, to regain, to receive, to obtain, to take apart. Only Luke uses this verb: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 5; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. Again, this is Luke's signature. And this verb is well suited in the parable, because it is a question of regaining what one had before.

v. 28 At that moment he became angry and did not even want to enter. Then the father went out to pray to him.

Literally: Then, he was angry (ōrgisthē) and was not willing (ēthelen) to enter (eiselthein). Then the father of him having come out (exelthōn), he was begging (parekalei) him

ōrgisthē (he was angry)
The verb orgizō means: to anger, to irritate, and in the passive: to get angry with someone; to be irritated with someone. It is very rare in the New Testament and in the Gospels: Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. In Luke, it appears here and in the parable of the wedding guests (14: 21) where the master is angry to see people decline the invitation to the meal and retaliates by inviting the newcomer. In Matthew, it appears in the parable of the two debtors where the master is angry that one of his debtors does not show the same compassion towards his brother (18: 34), as well as in the discourse on the mountain where Jesus asks not to be angry with his brother (5: 22). Thus, in three of the four occurrences in the gospels, anger appears in a parabolic account to describe someone's reaction to an unacceptable attitude. It is clear that the older son finds what is happening unacceptable. We will have more details in the next verse. From an editorial point of view, we cannot detect any intervention by Luke.

ēthelen (he was willing)
There is little to say about thelō (to want, to wish well, to please, to love), except that it is widespread: Mt = 45; Mk = 25; Lk = 28; Jn = 23; Acts = 14. Even though 75% of the occurrences in Luke are in passages of his own, nothing can be inferred, because these borrowings from Mark and the Q Document are too numerous. In our parable, the older son has made a decision based on anger: he refuses to participate in the feast and to be complicit in the father's decision.

Verb thelō in Luke
eiselthein (to enter)
The verb eiserchomai is formed from the preposition eis (into) and the verb erchomai (to come, to arrive) and means: to enter into, to penetrate. This is another frequent verb in all the gospels: Mt = 33; Mk = 30; Lk = 50; Jn = 15; Acts = 33. Luke uses it extensively, but nothing more can be said. In our parable, the son refuses to enter the place of the feast, because that would oblige him to participate in it, and thus to consent to the decision of the father.

exelthōn (having come out)
The verb exerchomai describes the opposite action of the previous one: formed from the preposition ek (from) and the verb erchomai (to come, to arrive), it means: to go out, to leave, to come from. It too is very frequent: Mt = 43; Mk = 37; Lk = 39; Jn = 29; Acts = 29. Very often, the characters in the gospels go out to meet someone. This is what happens with the father. His action expresses his love for the elder son: he wants to keep the relationship; since the situation is in a dead end, he takes the initiative.

parekalei (he was begging)
The verb parakaleō is formed from the preposition para (by, beside) and the verb kaleō (to call, invite, summon), and means: to call to one's self, to pray, to beg, to invite, to exhort, to warn, to reclaim, to comfort, to encourage. The verb is quite present in the gospels, except in John, but it is in the Acts of the Apostles that it expands, where the apostles exhort and encourage the members of the Christian community: Mt = 9; Mk = 10; Lk = 7; Jn = 0; Acts = 24. In the gospels, it often has the meaning of begging. That is what the father of the elder son seems to be doing here.

v. 29 The eldest said this to his father: 'It has been so long since I am at your service and I have never disobeyed your rules, and yet you have never bothered to give me even a worthless thing like a male goat to celebrate with my friends

Literally: Then, him, having answered, he said to the father of him, behold (idou) so many (tosauta) years (etē) I am serving (douleuō) you and never (oudepote) commandment (entolēn) of you I passed by (parēlthon), and you never gave me a young goat (eriphon) in order to I might make merry with the friends of me.

idou (behold)
The word idou is the passive imperative of the verb horaō (to see, look at, observe, notice). In this form it is so frequent that it deserves a separate treatment: Mt = 62; Mk = 7; Lk = 57; Jn = 4; Acts = 23. In a story, it is used to attract attention: "And behold, there came a man... ». This device is used extensively by Luke, Matthew and Q Document. When we look closely at Luke's gospel, we notice that he likes this process so much that he does not mind introducing it into some of the texts he receives from Mark. For example, as Mark puts into Jesus' mouth this word: Go into the city; you will meet a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow him (Mk 14:13), Luke modifies this sentence as follows: Behold (idou), as you go into the city, you will meet a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow him (Lk 22:10). In the majority of cases, the word appears in passages of his own. What does it mean? Because of the important presence of the expression also in Matthew and the Q Document, it cannot simply be attributed to Luke's editorial work. This is what we must conclude for our parable.

tosauta (so many)
The demonstrative adjective tosoutos means: as great, as many, as much. But it is not part of the usual language of the gospels: Mt = 3; Mk = 0; Lk = 2; Jn = 4; Acts = 2. These numbers can be misleading. In Matthew, for example, one occurrence comes from the Q Document (Mt 8:10), and then the other two appear in the same sentence in the scene of the feeding of the crowd (Where shall we take, in a desert, as much (tosoutos) bread to satisfy as much (tosoutos) crowd? , Mt 15:33), a scene that has its parallel in John where the word also appears (There is a child here, who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what is this for so many (tosoutos) people?, Jn 6:9). In Luke, of the two occurrences, one comes from the Q Document, the other appears in our parable. It is logical to think that it was part of Luke's source. In the mouth of the elder son, this "so many" announces the impressive number of good things he will have done.

etē (years)
Here is a word that Luke likes a lot: Mt = 1; Mk = 2; Lk = 15; Jn = 3; Acts = 11. However, we should be careful not to see Luke's editorial work here, because most of the time Luke uses etos to specify a chronology (in the year fifteen... heaven was closed for three years... lived 7 years with her husband... when he was twelve, etc.). Here, there is nothing specific: so many years. In any case, the older son puts forth his lifelong fidelity.

douleuō (I am serving)
The verb douleuō means: to be a slave, to serve someone, to render service. Again, it is found mostly in Luke, while it is not very frequent: Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 3; Jn = 1; Acts = 2. Apart from its presence in our parable, the other occurrences are in the same verse: No servant can serve (douleuō) two masters... You cannot serve (douleuō) God and Money (16:13). This is to say its rarity, and it is easy to imagine that the verb in our parable comes from the source. It is important to emphasize the meaning of this verb: it is to be a slave. This says a lot about how the son sees his relationship to the father. It is far from filial love. The son has done his duty as a son to serve his father, he has obeyed the divine commandment.

oudepote (never)
Oudepote is a rare adverb in the whole Bible. In the Gospels-Acts, it is found most in the Gospel of Matthew: Mt = 5; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 1; Acts = 0. There is no overlap between all these occurrences, except for this expression in the mouth of Jesus: oudepote anegnōte (Have you never read...), which appears twice in Matthew (21: 16.42) and once in Mark (2: 25). In Luke, the only two occurrences are here in our verse. We are definitely not in Luke's vocabulary. When someone uses the word never, there is often an element of caricature: the tone is very emphatic. The word never, like the word always, carries a note of exaggeration. What the older son is saying with his "never" is: I have been perfect.

entolēn (commandment)
The word entolē (command, commandment, order, instruction) refers to an important reality of Judaism, and so it is present in the New Testament and in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 6; Mk = 6; Lk = 4; Jn = 10; Acts = 1. We must immediately distinguish between the meaning of entolē in John and its meaning in the rest of the gospels.

In John, it refers to Jesus' commandment to love one another (15:2), and this commandment is the source of eternal life (12:50).

In the other gospels, entolē refers instead to the ten commandments given at Sinai and all that follows from them. This is seen in Mark when Jesus lists the commandments thus: Don't kill, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't bear false witness, don't do wrong, honor your father and mother (10:19), and which he will later summarize as Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord, You shall love your neighbor as yourself (12:19-31).

But at the same time, entolē overflows the ten commandments to cover also jurisprudence that arises from the application of the commandments, such as that concerning divorce: Because of your hardness of heart he has written for you this commandment (entolē) (drawing up of a certificate of divorce and repudiation) (10:5). For Matthew the Jew, whoever violates one of these least commandments of the Law, and teaches others to do the same, will be held to be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven (5:19).

What about Luke? Of the five occurrences of the word, only one repeats the passage from Mark that summarizes the list of commandments at Sinai (18:20). Although the other occurrences are unique to him, they take up the same themes. Like Matthew, the observance of the commandments is valued: Zechariah and Elizabeth follow, blameless, all the commandments (entolē) and observances of the Lord (1: 6); or, the women at the empty tomb stood at rest, according to the commandment (25: 36). In such a context, the expression entolē of you, i.e. your commandment, is somewhat surprising in this parable. We are no longer talking about God's command, but about the father's command. It is as if we were in a military world. Yet the image of the father from the beginning is quite different. For example, he does not resist the younger son's request to have his share of the inheritance immediately.

We are probably looking at the image of the son of his father: not that of a loving father, but that of a demanding superior. And in this context, it is not the relationship that matters, but the observance of commandments. If the author of the parable presents us with this image, he probably means to allude to the perception of God with his commandments among many Jews.

parēlthon (I passed by)
The verb parerchomai is formed from the preposition para (by, beside) and the verb erchomai (to come, to arrive), and means: to pass by, to pass over, to overtake, to break. It appears a number of times in the Gospels-Acts, except in John: Mt = 8; Mk = 5; Lk = 7; Jn = 0; Acts = 2. When we examine all the uses of this verb, we see that one meaning dominates: that of passing around something or someone like the wind. For example: Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away (parerchomai) until everything has happened (Lk 21:32 || Mt 24:34 || Mk 13:30); or: The place is deserted and the hour has already passed (parerchomai) (Lk 14:15); or: No one felt strong enough to pass by (parerchomai) that way (where two demoniacs were) (Lk 8:28). In this context, the meaning of parerchomai in this verse of the parable is quite unique: to pass by, in the sense of avoiding. Nowhere else in the gospels is this sense of infringing found. This reinforces the idea that the choice of words is not Luke's, but his source.

But what is noteworthy here is the negative approach in the older son's reaction: he does not say that he was attached to the father's commandment, but rather that he did not seek to avoid or break it, just as one endures a situation as an inevitability without seeking to change it.

eriphon (goat)
Throughout the New Testament, the word eriphos appears only here and in Matthew 25:32 (Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0) when the son of man comes in his glory to separate the goats from the sheep. According to Matthew's parable, the goat is associated with those whom the Son of Man will curse and send to eternal fire. It is thus easy to associate the goat with what was worthless, at least much less than a sheep. What the younger son is saying is that his father did not even know how to give him an animal without much value. But what is especially noteworthy is the use of the two "never" words
  • never commandment of you I passed by
  • and you never gave me a young goat
The word "never" unites the two sentences and establishes a very strong link between them: we could paraphrase the word of the elder in this form: I never broke your commandment, therefore I deserved something from you that would allow me to celebrate with my friends, which you never did. The approach of the elder son takes a very mercantile form.

v. 30 On the other hand, when your son is here, who comes back from having devoured all your possessions with the whores, you have taken the trouble to slaughter the fattened calf'.

Literally: Then, when (hote) the son of you that one (ho huios sou houtos) came (back), the having devoured (kataphagōn) of you the livelihood with prostitutes (pornōn), you have killed for him the fattened calf.

hote (quand)
The conjunction hote (when, while, at which time, as long as) appears in all the evangelists: Mt = 12; Mk = 12; Lk = 12; Jn = 21; Acts = 10. In the Gospel of Luke, it is usually translated as "when" or "while". Although in it all but one of the occurrences belong to passages unique to him, or are a reprise of a Marcan text or the Q Document to which he adds the particle hote, we cannot infer anything about his intervention in our parable; even the expression hote de (then, when) at the beginning of the sentence, which is found here in the gospel and four times in Acts, also occurs three times in Matthew. Here, with his "when," the elder son is trying to focus attention on an event he has not "swallowed."

ho huios sou houtos (the son of you that one)
The expression is terrible. First of all, instead of saying "my brother", he says "your son" (ho huios sou). In our world, it happens that a quarreling couple no longer says "our son", but "your son", with one party blaming the other for the child's dismal condition and denying any personal responsibility. For the elder, this is a way of denying any connection with his brother. But in doing so, he indirectly finds himself no longer recognizing his father as a father; for to accept his bond with his father would be to also accept a bond with his brother, which he does not want.

Second, houtos can be either an adjective or a demonstrative pronoun. As an adjective, it is translated by: this or that, and as a pronoun by: this one or that one, depending on whether the object is near or far. In the expression ho huios sou houtos (the son of you that one), houtos should be translated by the demonstrative pronoun: that one. On the one hand, it qualifies the word son, on the other hand the object is located far away on the relational level. It is surprising that the author of the parable felt the need to add this demonstrative pronoun, because the expression "your son" was clear enough to make no mistake about the person. The presence of the demonstrative pronoun "that one" adds a note of contempt, a bit like holding a nauseating rag with two little fingers at the end of one's arm and saying: that rag.

As Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott (A Greek-English Lexicon) point out, houtos can be used emphatically to express contempt, while in contrast the similarly translated demonstrative adjective ekeinos rather expresses praise. Luke gives us a fine example of this negative connotation associated with houtos in a text from the Q Document, although at this point it does not have a note of contempt, but rather of discouragement and sadness: This (houtos) generation is an evil generation (11:29-32).

There is no doubt about it: not only has the eldest son cut off all relations with the one who was his brother, but he now has nothing but contempt for him; he now belongs to another universe.

kataphagōn (having devoured)
The verb katesthiō is formed from the preposition kata (which describes a movement from top to bottom, often translated as: below, on, in) and by the verb esthiō (to eat). It is usually translated as: to devour, like an animal of prey charging in to devour. It is a very rare word in the gospels: Mt = 0; Mk = 2; Lk = 3; Jn = 1; Acts = 0. Despite the fact that it appears three times in Luke's gospel, it is not a word that belongs to the Lucan vocabulary: of the three occurrences, two are a reworking of Mark (some of the grain was trampled underfoot and the birds of the air devoured everything (katesthiō): Lk 8:5 || Mk 4:4; the scribes who devour (katesthiō) the widows' possessions: Lk 20:47 || Mk 12:40). Note finally that the occurrence of the word in John is only a citation from Psalm 69:10 (The zeal for your house will devour me: Jn 2:17). Thus, katesthiō does seem to belong to the source that Luke uses. Note the extremely pejorative character of the word "devour", so that the younger son is ranked with those who devour the property of widows, and appears to the elder as an ogre.

pornōn (prostitutes)
The Greek word pornē probably comes from pernēmi which means: to export to sell, for Greek prostitutes were slaves who were bought (Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon). Only a few occurrences are found in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 2; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0. It refers to people who practice the oldest profession in the world, prostitution. Unlike the two passages in Matthew where prostitutes are presented in a favorable light (the customs officers and the prostitutes come before you to the Kingdom of God...the customs officers and the prostitutes have believed in John: Mt 21:31-32), our parable presents them as an eyesore: by stating that his brother frequented them, the elder intends to describe truly degrading behavior. And since frequenting prostitutes is not free, it is there that he would have exhausted his assets, according to the elder son. It is thus a completely black picture of his brother that the elder draws; it is not a neutral picture.

you have killed for him the fattened calf
We have already seen this vocabulary in v. 23 and 27. But it is legitimate to ask the question: in v. 23 the father asks the servant to prepare the fatted calf, and in v. 27 the servant tells the elder that the fatted calf has been killed, so why does the son refer to the same reality by saying: the fattened calf (ton siteuton moschon), and not the calf fattened (ton moschon ton siteuton) like the others? For we can assume that these stories that circulated in the first century had honed over time and the words were not neutral. If the story stuck to the every day life of the people, then we can assume that the fact of speaking about "the fattened one" first pointed to the most known identifier, so that the mention of the calf was almost not necessary: the son knew that the father would understand at the simple mention of the fattened one.

v. 31 The father answered him, 'My child, you are still with me, and you know that what is mine is also yours.

Literally: Then, him, he said to him, child (teknon), always (pantote) with me you are (met’ emou ei) and all the mine is yours (panta ta ema sa estin).

teknon (child)
The word tecknon is well known to the evangelists, with the exception of John: Mt = 14; Mk = 9; Lk = 14; Jn = 0; Acts = 5. In Luke, it refers primarily to the child of a mother and father. For example: But they had no child (teknon), because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years (Lk 1:7). To speak of children, the Greek language has another word that we saw above: pais. Is there a nuance between the two? In Luke, yes. In his gospel, we can group the uses of pais into four categories:
  • The word refers to the child in relation to the parent as teknon. For example: After the days were over, as they were returning, the child (pais) Jesus remained in Jerusalem without the knowledge of his parents (2:43)
  • The word refers to a child or servant in relation to God, in an attitude of faith. For example: God has raised up for us a power of salvation in the house of David, his servant (pais) (1:69)
  • The word refers to a subordinate slave, as we had above. For example: But if that servant shall say in his heart, My master tarries to come, and shall begin to smite the servants (pais) and the maids, and to eat, and to drink, and to be drunk (12:45)
  • Finally, the word refers to a young boy or girl. For example: But he took her hand and called her, saying, "Child (pais), arise (8:54)

Thus, it may happen in his gospel that the child in relation to the parent is referred to as pais, but in most cases it is tecknon that is used, as here in the parable. Just as the younger son addressed his father with the word pater (father) in the vocative, which we have rendered as "dad," here the father addresses his son with the term tecknon (child) in the vocative, which most Bibles render as "my child ». This is also done with the term philos (friend) in the vocative, which is translated as "my friend" (see Lk 11:5) (Note that pais in the vocative is not found in the New Testament). There is something affectionate and extremely significant in the expression "my child": it is the recognition of a bond and a relationship. Now, the elder son has just repudiated this relationship by saying: your son. The father refuses to enter into this game, he reaffirms his paternity and reconnects with his elder son.

On the child in the New Testament, see the Glossary
pantote (always)
Apart from John, the adverb pantote (always) occurs infrequently in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 7; Acts = 0. It is worth noting that both occurrences in Mark appear in the same verse (The poor, indeed, you will have them always with you... but I you will not have me always: 14:7), and Matthew takes them up as they are. In Luke, there is Jesus' invitation to pray always (Lk 18:1) and our parable. Now, "always" is the antonym of "never," and the word "never" appeared in our parable when twice the elder son uses it (never have I broken your precept...never have you given me). Here the father picks up the word "never" again, like a ball on the rebound, but changes its direction with "always": the "never" introduces a negative approach, the "always" a positive approach. Remember, with his "never" the elder expressed what was important to him: 1) not to break the father's commandment, and 2) to receive a reward to celebrate with his friends. With his "always", the father will express what is important to him and what should be important to his elder.

met' emou ei (with me you are)
Here is the first important thing for the father: being with him, i.e. the relationship. While the son talked about never passing by his commandment, the father corrects this by talking only about relationship. This is his answer to the first point of what is important for the elder: it is not the commandment that matters, but your connection with me.

panta ta ema sa estin (all the mine is yours)
Here is the second important thing for the father: the total sharing of goods, because the communion in the relationship leads to the co-ownership of everything. While the second important thing for the elder was to receive his reward to celebrate with his friends, the father replies: you don't have to receive anything from me, you can take everything, because you own everything. In a way, the elder has never understood his father, he has formed a false perception of him, and in this he has formed a false image of his identity as a son.

Through the parable, it is of course the false perception of God that is denounced, a perception that inhabits the majority of the people with whom Jesus comes into contact, even those who seem the most religious. Luke seems to have reworked some elements of the parable here and there, but the essence comes from a source to which he had access, and which sometimes has Johannine features, as here. Indeed, when we look in the gospels for some similarities with this word of the father, we find it only in John, in the mouth of Jesus, at his last supper, in a prayer addressed to God: All that is mine is yours (ta ema panta sa estin), and all that is yours is mine, and I am glorified in them (Jn 17:10). Even if the sequence is not perfectly identical because of the place of panta, the same words are found. Thus, what the father says in the parable, repeats the same words of John speaking of Jesus' relationship with his father.

v. 32 But it was necessary to celebrate and rejoice that your brother, who was dead, had returned to life, who was lost, has been found.'"

Literally: Then, it was necessary (ede) to make merry (euphranthēnai) and to rejoice (charēnai) for this brother of you (ho adelphos sou) was dead (nekros) and has lived again (ezēsen) and he has been lost (apolōlōs) and has been found (heurethē).

euphranthēnai (to make merry)
We have already analyzed euphrainō. It was introduced with the father's request (let us celebrate) to the servant after the son arrived (v. 23). Then the father's request was carried out in v. 24 (they began to celebrate). The word reappeared in v. 29 with the complaint of the elder who would have liked to receive the same favor (so that I may celebrate with my friends). Finally, the conclusion comes (v. 32) where the father's original request in v. 23 is justified. With euphrainō, we complete the loop concerning the parable of the younger son and the elder son.

charēnai (to rejoice)
With chairō, we return to the parable at the beginning of the shepherd with his 100 sheep (v. 5: after finding it, he carries it on his shoulders rejoicing), and now we end with the younger sons. It is a form of conclusion where we complete the loop on all the lost ones who have been found.

ede (it was necessary)
The verb deō means: to bind, to tie, to compel, to forbid, to prohibit, to ask, to beg. One may be surprised at the diversity of its meanings, but in fact one can see the logical movement from being bound to something, and thus needing it, and thus that it is necessary and demand it. It is often in the form "it is necessary" or "I must" that it appears. Well spread in the Gospels-Acts: (Mt = 17; Mk = 12; Lk = 23; Jn = 12; Acts = 35), it is part of that leitmotif created by Mark (The Son of Man must (deō) suffer much, be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and, after three days, rise again: 8:31) and is taken up by the other gospels (except John, who has his own version: The Son of Man must be lifted up: 3:14; see also 12:34). All the gospel writers use this word in their own way; there is no way to see certain distinctive features. When we consider the gospel of Luke, which uses this verb 23 times, we can group all these occurrences into four important meanings:
  • The expression of an essential path to accomplish a goal or one's destiny, especially under God's eyes. For example: To the other cities also I must (deō) proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God, for this is what I was sent to do (4:43)
  • The expression of a vital necessity related to common sense and the logic itself of life. For example: And that daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound eighteen years ago, ought (deō) not be set free from that bond on the Sabbath! (13: 16).
  • The expression of a request or prayer. For example: I prayed (deō) your disciples to expel him, but they could not (9:40).
  • The expression of the action of tying or binding. For example this passage that Luke copies from Mark: Go to the village opposite, and as you enter it you will find a colt tied (deō) (19: 30)

In the parable, the father replies to his elder son that he should celebrate and rejoice. This "should" comes from common sense and from the logic of life itself: how can we not rejoice and celebrate when someone finds life? It is a spontaneous vital reaction and a way to express our values: life is better than death.

ho adelphos sou (the brother of you)
When the father says: "Your brother", he is opposing the "Your son" of the elder. The latter denied the relationship to his brother. The father replies: this relationship still exists, because he has come back to life. These few words express what is at stake for the whole of humanity: to accept the relationship, or to refuse it.

nekros... ezēsen (dead.. has lived again)
This death-life pairing refers to the father's justification in v. 24 to begin the celebration. It summarizes not only the parable of the younger son, and perhaps that of the older son if he accepts the new perspective shown to him by his father in v. 31, but the very meaning of all existence: to pass from death to life.

apolōlōs... heurethē (he has been lost... he has been found)
This lost-found pairing brings us back to the first two parables where they spoke of "finding what was lost" (v. 4 and v. 9), then continued with the parable of the younger son when the father spoke of the lost-found pairing and which ends with a final mention of the lost-found pairing, a form of inclusion in the whole of the parables. Here we have the whole meaning of Jesus' action and that of the disciple.

  1. Analysis of the narrative's structure

    Introduction: the setting v. 1-3

    • Characters: Jesus, the Pharisees and the scribes
    • Triggering event: Jesus makes common cause with customs officials and rogue people
    • Reaction: the scribes and Pharisees are irritated by the good reception Jesus gives them and that he makes common table with them
    • Jesus' response: a parable

    Parable of the shepherd who lost a sheep v. 4-7

    • Questioning of Jesus: he invites his audience to put themselves in the shoes of a shepherd and recognize that they would have done the same thing as the following
    • Triggering event: a shepherd has 100 sheep and loses one
    • Reaction:
      • the shepherd leaves the 99 in the desert and starts looking for the lost sheep
      • He explodes with joy when he finds it and takes it home on his shoulders
      • At home, he invites friends and neighbors to rejoice with him for having found the lost sheep
    • Conclusion: we have here the point of view of God
      • Introduction: a solemn affirmation follows (I tell you)
      • Affirmation in the form of a comparison
        1. there will be joy with Godfor a single deviantwho reorients his life
        2. as (an absence of joy?)for ninety-nine blameless peoplewho do not need to reorient their life

    Parable of a woman who loses a coin v. 8-10

    • Questionning of Jesus: Isn't the following normal behavior?
    • Triggering event: a woman has ten drachmas and loses one
    • Reaction:
      • She lights a lamp and sweeps the house
      • She searches carefully until she finds
      • When she has found it, she invites friends and neighbors to rejoice with her for having found the lost drachma
    • Conclusion: we have here the point of view of God
      • Introduction: a solemn affirmation follows (I say to you)
      • Affirmation: such is the joy in God's world in front of a single wayward person who reorients his life.

    Parable of a father and his two sons v. 11-32

    • Introduction: the characters, a man and his two sons

    • Parable of the father and the younger son v. 12-24
      • Demand of the youngest: he wants his share of the inheritance
      • Father's response: he distributes to his two sons the inheritance
      • Action of the younger
        • He gathers his belongings and leaves for a distant country, squandering his fortune in a dissolute life
      • Event
        • Detail: When he had exhausted all his fortune, a great famine raged in this country, he found himself in indigence
        • Action of the younger: he offers his services to a citizen to graze his herd of pigs
        • Result: he is still destitute, not being able to eat the food of the pigs
      • Decision of the younger
        • Realization: his father's employees are better than him
        • Decision: he will acknowledge before his father his fault and will offer his services as a wage earner, since he has lost his dignity as a son
        • Following the decision: he returns to his father's house
      • Father's reaction
        • First reaction: He is moved to the bowels when he sees him from afar and runs to him to throw himself on his neck and cover him with kisses
        • Following his reaction: He does not let his son finish his pitch and asks his servants
          1. to give back to his son all the signs of his dignity: the best clothes, the ring and the sandals.
          2. to start the party with the fattened calf
      • Justification of the father's reaction
        • The dead son has come back to life
        • The lost son has been found
      • Conclusion and transition: it's a party

    • Parable of the father and the elder son v. 25-32
      • Opening setting: older son is in the field working
      • Triggering event: on his way home, he hears the music and dance
      • Reaction of the eldest son
        • He inquires of a servant about its meaning
        • He gets angry and doesn't want to join the party when he learns the meaning of the father's action
      • Father's action
        • He goes to meet his eldest son as he leaves the house and begs him (to change his attitude)
      • Feedback from the eldest son
        • For one thing, his father never did a single party for him, even though he was a faithful worker without ever disobeying the rules for many years
        • On the other hand, he had a big party for a son who squandered his property with whores
      • Father's response
        • The eldest son does not have to receive anything, because he is not a stranger, but co-owner with the father
      • Conclusion: partying is justified
        • The dead son has come back to life
        • The lost son has been found

    An analysis of vv. 1-32 as a whole reveals a number of things:

    • It is not three but four parables that are presented to us. The story of the father and his two sons can be broken down into two parables, even if the one about the elder son presupposes the one about the younger: the drama at the source of these two stories is different.

    • The four parables have the same thread: the joy felt at the reunion of what was lost and the need to celebrate this joy, so important was what was lost. In this sense they are a real answer to those who question Jesus' behavior of welcoming and sharing with the lost, because on the one hand they tell us how important they are in the eyes of God, and on the other hand they give us the meaning of this behavior: to restore relationships.

    • The parable of the lost sheep and that of the lost coin have a similar structure.
      • Jesus challenges his audience to judge for themselves the rightness of his action by putting himself in the shoes of the shepherd who lost a sheep or the woman who lost a drachma
      • The triggering event is the loss of a single thing by an owner who has many: a shepherd who has 100 sheep and loses one, a woman who has 10 drachmas and loses one
      • The owner's reaction is the same: he leaves everything to concentrate on finding what was lost, and after finding it, he is so happy that he invites the neighborhood to the party
      • Comes the conclusion where Jesus makes a solemn proclamation (I tell you), affirming that the parable reflects the attitude of God

      However, there is a slight difference in their conclusion: while both parables affirm God's joy in the face of a single wayward person who reorients his life, the one about the lost sheep adds the comparison with the righteous who do not need to reorient their lives. When we know that the words "righteous" and "reorientation of life" are part of a vocabulary that Luke is fond of, and when we notice that the beginning of the 2nd element of the comparison is lame (what echoes "such will be the joy" in the 2nd element, implicitly the absence of joy? ) one is inclined to think that the evangelist took the liberty of adding this comparison with the righteous to add a polemical tone to the discussion: clearly it is the Pharisees and the scribes who are targeted by these 99 righteous who "think" they do not need to reorient their lives.

    • The parables about the father and his two sons have a different structure from the first two and seem to come from a different source. They do not have a questioning element where Jesus invites his audience to judge for themselves the value of an action. They simply say, A certain man had two sons.

    • The parable of the father and the youngest son is a long story full of events (request for an inheritance, departure for a distant pagan and dissolute life, squandering of his fortune, famine and miserable life with a pig owner, realization and decision) before arriving at the denouement of the story: the expression of the father's love and the restoration of his son's dignity. In this, it differs from many parables that are much simpler and more concise, with repetitive elements.

    • Although the parable of the father and the older son begins where the parable of the younger son ends, it differs in its brevity, its different tone, and its intended audience. There is no plot, only the anger of the older son and his rejection of the father's attitude. It is this anger with the list of reproaches to the father that occupies the most space. The father's action is limited to going to him and responding to his reproaches by reminding him that he is not a stranger but a co-owner.

    • One might wonder if the two parables of the father and his two sons did not appear at different times, the second being added afterwards to give the first a new extension and to answer different questions for a different audience. But the fact remains that these two parables have been well sewn together, with identical words in the conclusion of the first as in the second (it is a feast, for the dead son has come back to life, he was lost and has been found), and with a suture in the mouth of the servant (it is a feast, for the son has been found alive) that ensures the integration of the two stories.

  2. Context analysis

    When we look at the whole of Luke's work, i.e. his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, we observe a general plan: in Jesus the promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled, so that Jesus becomes the voice of God, and after his death/resurrection, it is the Church that bears witness. This theological plan is accompanied by a geographical plan:

    in the gospel,

    1. Jesus carries out his mission in Galilee,
    2. then sets out for Jerusalem, and
    3. ends his mission in Jerusalem with the gift of his life;

    in the Acts of the Apostles,

    1. the first Christians took up the torch in Jerusalem, then
    2. go throughout Judea and Samaria,
    3. before reaching the ends of the earth.

    The set of four parables in our analysis is situated in this second part of Luke's Gospel, which is a long journey to Jerusalem (9:51 – 19:28) initiated by the phrase: Now that the time was coming, when he was to be taken out of the world, Jesus resolutely took the road to Jerusalem. This section contains a whole sequence of teachings and actions of Jesus in the context of his upcoming departure, a form of legacy for the disciples. Throughout this section, the mention that Jesus and his disciples are on a journey recurs as a leitmotif, a reminder that life is a long journey. Let's take a closer look at this section.

    • On the mission 9: 51 – 10: 20
    • On the mystery of God 10: 21-24
    • On love 10: 25-37
    • On the word 10: 38-42
    • On prayer 11: 1-13
    • On the meaning of the healings of Jesus 11: 14-26
    • On the unique value of the word heard and practiced 11: 27-32
    • On the light of faith 11: 33-36
    • On the failure of the spokesmen of the Jewish tradition 11: 37-53
    • On the courage to testify 12: 1-12
    • On the illusion of accumulated wealth 12: 13-34
    • On Christian responsibility 12: 35-48
    • On the urgency of dealing with crises now 12: 49-59
    • On the urgency of reorienting one's life now 13: 1-9
    • On the value of a woman who is also a daughter of Abraham 13: 10-17
    • On the reign of God 13: 18-30
    • On Jesus' decision to go to the end despite death threats 13: 31-35
    • On the priority of the human person over any religious rule 14: 1-6
    • On certain fundamental human attitudes: refusal of honors and calculated gifts 14: 7-24
    • On the requirements for following Jesus 14: 25-35
    • On how to deal with deviant people 15: 1-32
    • On the ability to manage wealth well 16: 1-15
    • On the tension between the Old Testament and the reign of God 16: 16-18
    • On the urgency for the rich to reorient their lives 16: 19-31
    • On some basic attitudes in community 17: 1-11
    • On the ability to discern God's action 17: 12-37
    • On persevering prayer 18: 1-8
    • On the right attitude in prayer 18: 9-14
    • On the conditions for entering the kingdom of God 18: 15-30
    • On the fate that awaits Jesus 18: 31-34
    • On the new look required to follow Jesus 18: 35-43
    • On the mission to find what was lost 19: 1-10
    • On the Christian responsibility in waiting for the reign of God 19: 11-28

    This section seems to be a hodgepodge where Luke throws in words and stories received from tradition. Certain themes such as prayer, riches or the conditions for following Jesus are scattered throughout. It is therefore difficult to find a rigorous logic. In any case, let's take a closer look at the immediate context of the parables we are analyzing.

    On the requirements for following Jesus 14: 25-35
    • Teaching large crowds v. 25
    • To follow Jesus is to give him priority over his family v. 26
    • To follow Jesus is to carry his cross v. 27
    • Without it, we will not be able to go all the way, like building a tower without a foundation v. 28-30
    • Without this, we will not be able to go all the way as an army facing a larger force v. 31-32
    • To follow Jesus is to give up everything that belongs to us v. 33
    • For the role of the disciple is to be the salt of the earth, otherwise he is totally useless v. 34
    On how to deal with deviant people 15: 1-32
    • Reproach of the Pharisees and scribes on Jesus' welcome to the deviates v. 1-2
    • Parable of the shepherd who lost a sheep v. 3-7
    • Parable of the woman who lost a drachma v. 8-10
    • Parable of the father and his youngest son v. 11-24
    • Parable of the father and his elder son v. 25-32
    On the ability to manage wealth well 16: 1-15
    • Jesus speaks to his disciples v. 1a
    • Parable of a rich man who accuses his administrator of squandering his property v. 1b
    • The rich man asks his administrator for an assessment before firing him v. 2
    • To face a period without work that is coming, the administrator takes advantage of his last moments as administrator to make gifts to all the debtors in order to receive in return v. 3-7
    • The rich man praises the administrator, however, because he was able to face the deadline that was looming over his head v. 8a
    • Jesus concludes with the sad observation that people manage economic things better than their personal lives v. 8b
    • He takes the opportunity to urge people to manage money well to create deep and lasting relationships v. 9
    • Because having money implies a responsibility, and assuming this responsibility well implies that one is able to assume the responsibility of the human community well v. 10-12
    • And we cannot give priority at the same time to money and to the human being, this child of God v 13
    • The Pharisees, who loved money, mocked this teaching, but Jesus warned them that God would reveal the truth of hearts

    What to conclude? First of all, what precedes the text we are analyzing colors it a bit. In fact, Jesus' words are addressed to the disciples who want to follow him, to the requirements that this implies, an essential condition for becoming the salt of the earth. Of course, the four parables that follow are addressed to the scribes and the Pharisees. But beyond them, the gospel is addressed to those who want to become disciples: to follow Jesus is to walk in his footsteps, and therefore to go towards the deviated people, to establish relationships with them, to welcome them with all one's heart. And one cannot go to the deviated people if one gives priority to one's family or to money, and if one does not accept this cross of seeing one's reputation tarnished. But this is the condition to become the salt of the earth.

    The text that follows our four parables is another parable, that of the administrator who was able to face the deadline of his dismissal. At first glance, there does not seem to be a connection between our four parables and this new one. Luke may have wanted to group a number of parables together. But, as is regularly noted in the gospels, authors sometimes tend to group pericopes by theme or "hook" words. Remember, we are mostly in an oral culture where grouping themes and hook words are important for memorization, just like rhyme in poetry. Now, this hook word appears as early as 16:1: "squander" (diaskorpizō), when the rich man is said to accuse his administrator of squandering his possessions, just as the younger son has squandered" (diaskorpizō) his possessions (15:13). Of course, the context of these two squanderings is totally different, but the words call each other. Still, this contributes to an interesting connection: both squanderings have a happy ending, for the younger it will lead him to destitution, and thus to the decision to return to his father, in the administrator it will allow him to secure his future by multiplying gifts; for the younger it will lead him to re-establish the relationship to the father, in the administrator it will lead him to establish new relationships.

    Thus, our four parables, as well as the context that precedes and follows, touch on a theme dear to Luke: the relationship to possessions and money: if one does not distance oneself from possessions, one cannot be a disciple and salt of the earth (14:33-34); the shepherd is attached to his relationship to each sheep and the importance of each one, not the monetary value of the flock; the parable of the lost drachma is not about the desire for possession, but about the importance of every aspect of one's world; the younger son thought he would find happiness in his possessions, until he learns the hard way that he was wrong; the older son is reminded that he already has everything through his relationship with the father; and the administrator uses money wisely by cultivating relationships.

  3. Parallels

    Only the parable of the shepherd who lost a sheep offers us a real parallel (|| Mt 18:12-14). The parable of the woman who lost a drachma and the parable of the father and his two sons have no other parallel in the gospels. These parables seem to come from a source known only to Luke. Even so, it is worthwhile to parallel another passage from Luke at the beginning of his gospel with a passage from the prophet Ezekiel.

    We have underlined the words of Luke 15 that are also found in Luke 5, Matthew 18 or Ezekiel 33. In his chapter 5 Luke copies Mark, which we have indicated in green.

    Matthew 18Luke 15Luke 5Ezekiel 33
     1-2 Then they were drawing near him all the tax collectors and the sinners to hear him, and they were grumbling both the Pharisees and the scribes saying that this (fellow) receives sinners and he eats with them.30 And was grumbling the Pharisees and scribes of them towards the disciples of him saying: because of why with the tax collectors and sinners you eat and drink? 
     3 Then, he said towards them this parable saying,31a and having answered the Jesus said towards them,  
    12 What to you it seems? If it should happen to any man a hundred sheep and one out of them would have gone astray, will you not forsake ninety-nine over the mountains, and having gone, he seeks the going astray? 4 What man out of you having a hundred sheep and having lost one out of them does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and goes over the having been lost until he would find it?   
    13a and if it should happen to find it5 And having found, he lays over the shoulders of him rejoicing,  
     6 and having come into the house he calls together the friends and the neighbors saying to them, rejoice with me for I have found the sheep of me the having been lost.  
    13b-14 Truly, I say to you that he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine, the one not having gone astray. In this way it is not (the) will in front of the Father of you the one in heavens in order that should perish one of the little ones of these.7 I say to you that in the same way there will be joy in the heaven over one sinner repenting rather than over ninety-nine righteous who do not have need for repentance.31a-32 no need they have those being healthy of a physician but those badly having. I have not come to call righteous (ones), but sinners to repentance. Say to them, Thus says the Lord, As I live, I desire (boulomai) not the death of the ungodly, as that the ungodly should turn (apostrephō) from his way and live: by turning (Greek noun: apostrophē, Hebrew verb: šwb), turn (Greek: apostrephō, Hebrew: šwb) from your way; for why would you die, O house of Israel?

    Let's analyze the different parallels

    1. Luke 15 and Matthew 18

      • We have totally different contexts.

        • Matthew 18 is primed by a question from the disciples to Jesus about who is greatest in the kingdom of God, only to be answered that he must return to being a child, followed by a reminder that to welcome a child is to welcome Jesus himself, but also by the warning that to scandalize even one of these little ones who believe in him leads to hellfire, as well as the exhortation not to despise one of these little ones (henos tōn mikrōn allōn). And so he tells the parable of the sheep that goes astray, which ends with the words: there is no will in your Father who (is) in (the) heavens that one of these little ones (hen tōn mikrōn allōn) should be lost. Thus, the parable focuses on those who are considered "little" in the community and who are not to be despised, for they are important in God's eyes. What does "small" mean? We will come back to that later.
        • Luke 15 is preceded by a teaching on the requirements for following Jesus and the importance of being the salt of the earth, followed by the questioning of the scribes and Pharisees about why he is open to the wayward. The parable ends with the mention of the joy of seeing the wayward one change his ways. Thus, everything is centered on the mission of the one who wants to follow Jesus and be the salt of the earth.

      • The situation of the sheep is different in the two parables

        • In Matthew, the sheep goes astray (planaō), whereas it is lost (apollymi) in Luke. Going astray has a specific meaning in Matthew, which is observed when the disciples ask about the end of the world and Jesus responds, Beware lest you go astray (planaō). For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and they will (planaō) mislead many people (24:4-5)... False prophets will arise in great numbers and will mislead (planaō) many people (24:11; see also 24:24). Thus, Matthew places us in the Christian community where some have gone astray, giving in to false prophets and various gurus. These are the "little ones" for whom Matthew's Jesus has this to say: do not offend any of these little ones who believe in me (18:6). Since Matthew's community seems to be composed of Jewish Christians, we can think that the scandal came from certain tenors who attacked certain Jewish practices or else distanced themselves from them, troubling some of the more conservative and weaker members, even driving them away from the community (an interesting example is that of the consumption of butcher's meat that had previously been offered to idols: see the debate in Paul, pastor in Corinth).
        • In Luke, the sheep is lost (apollymi). Unlike Matthew, there is no sense of a community perspective, i.e., it is not about a Christian who has strayed from the community. A typical example of the lost is Zacchaeus, whose story concludes, For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost (to apolōlos) (Lk 19:10). The perspective is much more universal, i.e., all those who have not yet been reached by the word of Jesus and who are not yet committed to a new life orientation.

      • Other differences
        • In Matthew, the shepherd forsakes (aphiēmi) his sheep, in Luke he leaves (kataleipō) them, but both words refer to the same idea of abandoning the flock
        • With Matthew the flock is in the mountains, with Luke in the wilderness. It is possible that the original parable spoke of a wilderness, typical of the Palestinian environment, and Matthew would have replaced wilderness by mountain to reflect his environment.
        • While the parable ends in Matthew when the shepherd finds his sheep, in Luke it undergoes a new development with the shepherd's gesture of putting his sheep on his shoulders for the journey home, and then his gesture of inviting friends and neighbors to rejoice with him. In so doing, he changes the meaning of the parable to emphasize the joy and relevance of the celebration. One cannot help but think of Luke in Acts when he speaks of the community to which new members were added every day and which met to celebrate in joy and unity.
        • And so the conclusions diverge. In fact, in Matthew we find two conclusions: the first (the shepherd rejoices over this sheep more than over the ninety-nine who did not go astray) follows logically from the parable; the second (there is no will in your Father who (is) in (the) heavens that one of these little ones should be lost) is an extension of the reflection to join Jesus' earlier exhortation not to scandalize the little ones. In doing so, he finds himself echoing Ezekiel 13:11. Luke's conclusion is more consistent in remaining solely focused on joy.

      • The source of the two parables
        • When Matthew and Luke present similar, if not identical, passages, biblical scholars evoke the Q Document hypothesis (Q for Quelle in German, i.e. source). So spontaneously comes the question: what was the original parable and how did Luke and Matthew modify it to serve their catechetical purpose? Of course, all this is pure conjecture, but making this effort sometimes helps to better understand the purpose of each evangelist.
        • We have already noted certain themes and preoccupations which are proper to each evangelist, and which color their way of rewriting the tradition they receive: in Matthew, it is the lost person, the fragile little one who can easily be hurt; in Luke, it is the joy of celebration in the community of the saved and the importance of reorienting one's life (conversion). The difficulty concerns this passage in Luke about the shepherd's action after finding his sheep and the celebration that follows: did Luke add this section, or did Matthew cut it out of his source for the sake of brevity? Since this section does not seem essential and appears to be an effort by Luke to integrate all the parables of chap. 15 (he would have added it to the story of the lost coin as well), we believe that it is not part of the Q Document.
        • We could imagine the parable in the Q Document like this:
          Which of you, having a hundred sheep and having lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go to the lost one until he has found it? Amen, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine who are not lost.

    2. Luke 15 and Luke 5

      The first thing to note about Luke 5 is that it repeats here the account of Mark 2:16-17. Let us recall the context, which is the same as Mark's: Jesus calls the customs officer Levi (James, son of Alphaeus in Mark) to become his disciple, and the latter organizes a great feast to which fellow customs officers and many other people are invited. In his rewriting of Mark, Luke changes small things:

      • While in Mark the Pharisees and scribes simply ask Jesus' disciples a question, in Luke they "grumble", which makes their attitude more confrontational
      • In Mark the question is about Jesus eating with the customs officers and sinners, in Luke about Jesus eating and "drinking" with them. When we speak of drinking, we are obviously not talking about water, but about wine, which accentuates the celebration
      • In Mark it is "able" people (hoi ischyontes) who do not need a doctor, in Luke it is healthy or sound people (hoi hygiainontes), a word Luke uses a few times.
      • Finally, when Jesus says that he came to call sinners in Mark, Luke adds that he came to call them "to conversion", one of the themes of his gospel. But when we compare Luke 15 and Luke 5, we notice differences that are due to the fact that in chapter 5 Luke follows Mark: the Pharisees and scribes address their questions to the disciples, and Jesus' answer is directly about the reason for his action among sinners. But the fact remains that both chapters 15 and 5 answer the same question: why does Jesus sit down with the customs officers and the sinners? The emphasis of the answer, however, is different: in chap. 5 Jesus says that he goes to the sinners like a doctor to a sick person; in chap. 15 Jesus emphasizes the importance of celebrating, and therefore of eating and drinking, before the importance of the fact that the sinner has left his way. Nevertheless, Luke finds a way to link these two passages with the theme of conversion.

    3. Ezekiel 33

      The only reason to mention this passage from the prophet Ezekiel is that it presents God's position towards the sinner: God does not want the sinner to die, but to turn away from his path. In this he is in line with Luke's theme of conversion, as well as with Matthew's conclusion that God does not want anyone to be lost. Nevertheless, the contrast is striking: in Ezekiel we are far from the manifestation of love that goes so far as to abandon a whole flock to take care of a single person, and to hold a great joyful celebration because the person found is so dear. The image of God that emerges from Luke's account is that of a crazy love for each of us.

  4. Intention of the author when writing this passage

    • When trying to interpret the intent of a gospel writer, one must first place it in the time when the final writing took place, and in the context of the milieu in which it was written, its first audience. In the case of the gospel of Luke, there is a consensus among biblical scholars to place its final redaction around the year 80, and to affirm that its audience was made up of people of Greek culture, all this from the elements of the gospel itself. Personally, I have put forward the hypothesis that there is a probability that the final writing took place in Corinth, where there was a church founded by Paul (see Where was the gospel of Luke written?). The important thing to remember is that we are looking at a motley community of Greek culture, in a seaport visited by people from all over the world. Various cultures and religions were living side by side. According to a literary procedure known at the time, Luke dedicates his book to a man named Theophilus (see 1:1), who could be a fictitious person, since the name means "friend of God", and therefore could represent the typical Christian who has just been baptized and needs to see the first catechesis he received completed.

    • Luke has a number of sources at his disposal to write his version of the gospel, and he himself considers himself to be one of many to do this work (many have undertaken to compose an account of the events that took place among us from what was handed down to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word from the beginning: 1: 1-2). Unfortunately, in the present state of biblical scholarship, one can only say that 1) Luke knows Mark's gospel, then 2) the so-called Q Document (a source also known to Matthew and which seems to be mostly a collection of Jesus' sayings), 3) as well as another source also known to John (e.g., the miraculous fishing account in Lk 5 and John 21), and finally 4) sources that he alone seems to know. Most biblical scholars agree that Luke does not know the gospels of Matthew and John as we know them.

    • It is in this context that we must place the parables about what was lost and found. From the Q Document, he has this parable of a shepherd with 100 sheep who has lost one and sets out to find it until he finds it. It is hard to imagine the meaning of this parable in the Q Document, but one might think that the mention of greater joy at finding the lost sheep than at the whole flock was meant to emphasize the value of going after the people with whom the relationship is severed, and which fit perfectly with Jesus' action and mission (I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel: Mt 15:24); thus, originally, this parable justified Jesus' action. It is this parable that Luke has in hand.

    • But around the year 80, Luke's interest is not in telling what happened in the year 30 (where Jesus' death/resurrection could be located), but in speaking to people like Theophilus about the meaning of the Christian life. Thus, after talking about the demands of discipleship and their duty to be the salt of the earth, he introduces here parables about the lost-found, some of which (like the shepherd with 100 sheep) come from the Q Document, others from a source known only to him. But a writer does not simply copy his source as it is, he modifies this source so that it supports his catechetical purpose, and especially so that it allows him to answer questions that arise in his community. Can we have an idea of the questions that arise in Luke's community? One possible approach is to look at the points he seems to emphasize. Our analysis of the parables on the lost/found has allowed us to discover this:

      • Luke manages to integrate the parable of the shepherd who lost a sheep and that of the woman who lost a drachma with a scene of celebration at home with friends and neighbors that has the effect of emphasizing a specific theme
      • In the same way, he succeeds in making the celebration around the lost a major issue with the extension of the parable of the youngest son found by the parable of the father and the eldest son, because the question is clearly asked: but why celebrate, and thus live communion around a table, with a being who has an ignominious path?

      Thus, it is clear that Luke's concern is with communion around the same table with people whose backgrounds are less than stellar. We need only think of his story of Zacchaeus, a customs officer, in whose house Jesus goes to eat and which ends thus: When they saw this, they all grumbled and said, "He has gone to lodge with a sinful man!" (19:7). We can hypothesize that we have here an echo of a community situation around the 75 – 80s. Let us remember. The very fact that the gospel was spreading in non-Jewish circles was a problem. It took the Council of Jerusalem to recognize that non-Jews did not have to submit to Jewish rules to become Christians (Acts 15:1ff). In spite of this, tensions remained in the Eucharistic celebrations, so much so that Paul had to denounce Peter's attitude of abandoning the celebrations in Galatia (present-day Turkey) where non-Jews were present, under pressure from conservatives (see Galatians 2:12). And what about Corinth? It is a nest of conflicts where even the person who baptizes becomes a source of division (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). It is not surprising, then, to learn that the same divisions appear at Eucharistic celebrations, which are in a sense sharing meals (1 Corinthians 11:18ff), where the poor are still hungry and the rich are already drunk.

    • In such a context, what is the significance of Luke's work? He has before him parables that probably come from Jesus who wants to justify his action to people who are considered sinners, i.e. who deviate from the typical behavior of a good pious Jew. who deviate from the typical behavior of a good and pious Jew; the original meaning of the parables was probably to illustrate the phrase attributed to Jesus: I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt 15:24) insisting that this corresponded to God's will: There is joy in heaven for one lost person who is found. Luke's first move is to offer context to these parables, and he does so by introducing a passage from Mark 2:16-17 about the Pharisees and scribes who question why Jesus opens himself to sinners and customs officers and experiences table fellowship with them. But he immediately modifies Mark's text by adding "grumbled": the question is thus introduced in a context where people are shocked by Jesus' attitude. One cannot help but make the connection with the community of Corinth, or any similar community, where one could ask the question: is it not a horror to find people with such a poor background, coming from such different ethnic groups and religious traditions, together? What has become of the community that was once called the community of saints? Are we not rallying to the lowest common denominator? By introducing this context, Luke immediately finds himself changing the balance of the parables: it is no longer just a matter of working with lost people, but also of living in communion with them through the sharing of a common table.

    • Later, Luke continues to modify his sources. The parable of the shepherd with 100 sheep is extended to include a scene at home where the shepherd invites friends and neighbors to a big celebration. He does the same with the woman who lost a coin: the story is extended with the scene where she invites friends and neighbors to a great celebration. This extension bears the mark of Luke's pen. The link he makes with the Eucharistic community is clear, and the message is also clear: all of you, whoever you are, have come a long way, you are "converts", and this celebration simply proclaims God's loving action for each one. The addition of the parable of the father and his younger son, from a source known only to him, only reinforces this message with the image of a father who loves his son so much that he lets him go, but rushes to his neck when he returns, and offers a huge party to celebrate his "conversion", and the restoration of the relationship. But Luke could not forget his starting point where people grumble. So, as an inclusion, he adds to the parable of the younger son the parable of the older son (the parable of the younger son does not need the parable of the older son to be complete). Does the latter come from a particular source? Is it from the same background as that of the younger son? It is difficult to say. In any case, it raises the question: why do we live in table fellowship with people who have a bad record? Isn't that condoning sin? The reaction of the elder son probably mirrors that of veterans in some Christian communities, those who have been there for a long time and who have a clean record. And this reaction is natural and understandable: it is difficult to face the twisted paths, the mistakes of a lifetime, the reprehensible actions, the stupid gestures, the sometimes barbaric practices, without even going as far as sharing the intimacy of the people responsible for them. The answer that Luke offers us through this parable of the older son can be summarized as follows: enter into my perspective as a father, you have the chance to live in my intimacy, you are my child and you are loved, in your turn love your brother as I love him; then you too will celebrate seeing him at home around the same table.

    • Can Luke's intention be summarized in one sentence? In the context of tensions in a mixed community, he offers a reflection on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus by taking parables that were originally intended to justify Jesus' work with wayward people, but giving it a new twist, thanks to the fact that, historically, Jesus seems to have shared the table with these wayward people. Thus, these parables now support the value, importance and deep meaning of the Eucharistic sharing with the lost and converted: it is a celebration of God's loving work and a reflection of his joy, and of what it means to be a Christian community, i.e., a community of dead people who have found life. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, and by opening himself to this dimension, he becomes salt of the earth to transform it.

  5. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

    1. Suggestions from the different symbols in the story

      The symbols in this story are extremely numerous. Let's choose a few of them.

      • "Deviant people". This is a broad definition that includes all people who do not fit into the usual expectations of a certain world: people connected with prostitution, organized crime, petty criminals and thieves, profiteers or poachers, people who do not respect the law, or marginal people of any kind. Why was Jesus so interested in them? What was he looking for? And today, what would be the meaning of our interest in them?

      • "A shepherd who has 100 sheep and loses one". This is a very strong symbol. Isn't it a bit crazy to leave 99 sheep behind to take care of one? In fact, behind this gesture there is a crazy love for each individual. Doesn't this image serve to express what we are before God? And is it not a challenge to us in our relationships with others?

      • "Rejoice with me". Why such joy? The restoration of relationships after they have been broken is an unprecedented achievement, a near miracle. The celebration underlines the importance and value of what has just happened. It emphasizes that this is the goal and the end of all missions. Is our action thus aligned?

      • The father figure is quite unique. On the one hand, he gives in to the younger son's request to hand over his share of the inheritance immediately, even though he certainly knows how immature his child is. On the other hand, he lets his feelings explode by throwing himself around his son's neck and kissing him. A society like ours would have tried to take the means to avoid that the younger son makes a blunder, for example by refusing his request, and in return he would have had to pay for his blunder to avoid that he has the desire to do it again. But if this father figure reflects God, what does it mean? Doesn't it say that God is weak and powerless before our freedom? That he does not judge or condemn? But that he is a mad lover who can only wait for us to open up and cover us with a kiss?

      • The figure of the eldest son is interesting and certainly reflects a part of us. Deeply rooted in us is a sense of what is fair and just. We know the difference between someone who works hard and acquires something by paying for it with his labor, and a nonchalant person who acquires something by stealing it. There are some things we deserve, and some things we don't. In this respect, the elder is right to say that he deserves a party more than the younger for what he has accomplished. But what is the parable trying to say? On the level of love, doesn't the feast proclaim that love has reached its goal, that of a restored relationship? It is not easy to move from the register of merit to that of love. What could help us?

    2. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

      The challenge here is to consider how an evangelical passage can shed light on events such as these:

      • The terrorist act in Nice in July remains fresh in our memory. It is an unavoidable event for anyone who wants to reflect on contemporary life: 84 dead, including children and teenagers, crushed under the wheels of a crazy truck on the Promenade des Anglais. The feeling that nothing is safe anymore has spread. How do we react and overcome the fear? Can today's parables as told by Luke shed some light?

      • A US election candidate talks about building a wall with Mexico. Eastern Europe is talking about building a wall to keep out immigrants. The state of Israel already has its wall. That's one way of looking at the immigrant or the refugee. How does this compare with today's gospel?

      • In many countries, the political tendency is to withdraw in the face of major world events. We are uncomfortable in the face of so much upheaval, and spontaneously want to go back to the world that was familiar to us and that offered us security. Is this the choice that will make us grow better as people of the world? Can today's gospel enlighten us?

      • My daughter is pregnant and is due next month. Of course, the child is expected with joy and love. But at the same time, so many anxieties and sleepless nights await the parents. But this is what they wanted, and their faith in the future is boundless. Doesn't this way of embracing life remind us of Jesus, especially the Jesus of today's gospel?

      • Montreal is preparing to celebrate the 375th anniversary of its founding. Celebrating is part of being human: we need these moments of joy, of free time, where all our senses are connected. Doesn't what we celebrate reveal who we are? How can today's gospel shed new light?

 

-André Gilbert, Gatineau, September 2016