Kenneth E. Bailey lists eleven major theological implications of "The Parable of the Compassionate Father" (Luke 15:11-32) in Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15. (190-192)
- Sin. The parable exhibits two types of sin. One is the sin of the law-breaker and the other sin of the law-keeper. Each centers on a broken relationship. One breaks that relationship while failing to fulfill the expectations of the family and society. The second breaks his relationship while fulfilling those same expectations.
- Freedom. God grants ultimate freedom to humankind, which is the freedom to reject His love. Humankind is free to choose its own way even if that way causes infinite pain to the loving heart of God.
- Repentance. Two views of repentance are dramatically illustrated. The first: earn your acceptance as a servant/craftsman. The second: accept the costly gift of being found as a son.
- Grace. A freely offered love that seeks and suffers in order to save.
- Joy. For the father, joy in finding. For the younger son, joy in being found and restored to community.
- Fatherhood. The image of God as a compassionate father is given its finest definition in all of Scripture. The definition includes the offer of costly love to law-breakers and to law-keepers.
- Sonship. Each son returns to the father either defining (the older son) or intending to define (the prodigal) his relationship to the father as that of a servant before a master. The father will not accept. The father offers costly love to each, out of his determination to have sons responding to love rather than servants obeying commands.
- Christology. The father twice takes upon himself the form of a suffering servant who in each case offers a costly demonstration of unexpected love. The woman and the shepherd do some of the same on a lesser scale. There is a dramatic self-emptying in each case. The third parable embodies an implied one-to-one relationship between the actions of Jesus and the actions of the father in that each welcomes sinners into table fellowship. We would suggest that this unity of action also involves some form of a unity of person. The same theology is set in conceptual terms in John where Jesus first says in 5:17. “My Father is still working, and I also am working” (a unity of action). The John 10:30 reads, “The Father and I are one” (a unity of persons). This parable clearly affirms the first, and the reader at least “overhears” the second.
- Family/Community. The father offers costly love to his sons in order to restore them to his fellowship in the context of a family/community. Here and elsewhere in the NT, the family is a primary symbol of the nature of the church.
- Atonement. The father’s two acts of redeeming love are made at great cost. Because of who he is and because of the costly nature of the love offered, they generate incalculable atoning power. Some of the deepest levels of the meaning of the cross are clearly exposed.
- Eschatology. The messianic banquet has begun. All who accept the father’s costly love are welcome as his guests. Table fellowship with Jesus is a proleptic celebration of the messianic banquet of the end times. The parable of the great banquet in Luke 14:15-24 precedes our parable. Luke (or his source) present the reader with the former parable where to “eat bread in the kingdom of God” finally means to accept table fellowship with Jesus (Bailey, Poet and Peasant, 109-113). The same theme is woven into this parable as well. It is a joyous banquet that prefigures Holy Communion.
Clearly this parable is much more than an illustration about a point Jesus was trying to make. It is a masterfully and powerfully articulated theology through use of metaphors. As we add the first ten verses Luke Chapter 15 to the front of this parable we will see how Jesus tapped deeply into the the Jewish mind and re-framed their understanding through this metaphorical theology.