This past Sunday I had the pleasure of preaching. Preaching is not my forté, but I still enjoy it. I was intentional about taking a look at each character in the parable of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32). There’s a fancy word for the critical interpretation of scripture that ministers or theologians commonly use called exegesis. When we take an exegetical approach at scripture, we are not always reading aloud a parable as we commonly see it (in today’s culture). If we did, we would miss out on so many nuances that scripture holds. For example, how many times have you been watching a kid’s movie with your children and a character makes a reference of something from the past that connects with you, but your kids don’t understand it? It connects with you because you are older and understand the reference. You were “around” during the time so you could get it. What I’m describing is similar.
I’ll never forget the first time a professor explained the parable of The Shrewd Manager (Luke 16:1-8). Read this parable and then put it in today’s terms. You have an employee who is supposed to collect debt owed to your business. After threatening to fire them, they bring in a small percentage of what is owed and are praised by you… This is worthy of a lawsuit in today’s world and contrary to how you would treat someone as an employer. However, anyone listening to the parable for the first time as Jesus was telling it would have understood that the business owner’s dignity was at stake because of the manager’s mishandling of his estate. The manager’s actions restored the owner’s poise in the community (which was more important than money) and was consequently praised for his actions.
I say all of this to say that it is important to dig a little on any scripture we read and put it into context, and that includes cultural, so that we can fully understand the meaning. The meaning will always apply to us, and that’s the part we need to figure out. Also, that good meaning will most likely point to Jesus, like 99% of the time!