11 Jesus continued: ‘There was a man who had two sons.12 The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them.
– Luke 15.11-12
I was glancing through a couple of commentaries to clarify about what the younger son was entitled to during yesterday’s reflection. However, one thing which has stuck with me since has been that several of them suggested that here we have an allusion to Abraham.
When I read this story and mull it over there’s lots of different things which come to mind (and we’ll get to more of them later on!) but I wouldn’t have made an immediate leap to Abraham myself.
But… what if there is a link to Abraham?
The suggested link tends to come from the fact that it would have been uncommon for a Father to give his son(s) their inheritance while he was still alive but they may well give them gifts. Which parallels this:
Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.
– Genesis 25.5-6
Abraham then dies a couple of verses later and so the understanding is that Abraham voluntarily gave Isaac his inheritance before he died, as the Man with two sons does (voluntarily acquiescing to his son’s request).
This got me thinking about Abraham and inheritance. Suddenly, the following occurred to me.
Abraham, more than almost anyone else in scripture apart from Adam, is all about inheritance!
Abraham was originally called Abram, which apparently means ‘Exalted Father’. The first we hear of him is in Genesis 12 where in verse 1 God calls him to go to the land he will show him. This is followed immediately by a blessing which will shape the scriptural identification of God’s people forever. God says to Abram,
‘I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.’
– Genesis 12.2-3
It is from Abram that God will bless all the peoples of the earth. Later, in Genesis 17, God himself appears to Abram.
Tangent: Wait, whhaaaat?! This is clearly a powerful encounter, Abram falling flat on his face for the remainder of the conversation until verse 22, “When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.” Often when we mention God appearing to Abraham we talk about the three angels who discuss the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Somehow, this occasion has totally passed me by! I would love to look at this in more detail someday.
So, God appears to Abram and develops the covenant with him of which circumcision will be the sign. He says, “No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.” More than this, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”
It seems that when we think of the inheritance which Abraham will leave his Son Isaac and his descendants we are thinking not just of the material wealth he has accumulated, but of this covenant with God Almighty himself. A covenant which will be the blessing of all nations and peoples through, as some versions translate Genesis 12.3, Abraham’s ‘seed’.
Let’s enjoy our luxury of having the whole canon of scripture to influence our reflections. Galatians chapter three comes to mind. If you have time do read it for yourself but here’s the highlights:
8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith… [Christ] redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
15 Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds’, meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed’, meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: the law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
– Galatians 3.8-9,14-18,26-29.
If we belong to Christ, then we are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Now, whether the Pharisee listening to Jesus telling this story would have made this connection, or even were supposed to make this connection, is a question to which I don’t know the answer. That said, if there is a connection here with Abraham, however tenuous, then that connection is bound up in the similarities of inheritance, and the nature of Abraham’s inheritance helps us to reflect on the nature of inheritance in this story of the Prodigal son. If there is a connection, then this story is, from the very beginning, entirely about covenant love and salvation.