From a Jewish perspective this very well-known parable might be called "Two Brothers and their Father." This is because I believe the older brother represents the Jewish people and the younger brother represents the Gentile church. In this parable, the older brother becomes jealous of the younger brother. Just as Romans 11.11 in the New Testament states: "I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles."
I first thought of this parable as representing the Jewish and Christian 'brothers', during Passover (Pesach). During the Seder we have three pieces of matzah which are placed inside a three-pocketed white cloth. Then we take out the middle piece, lift it up and break it in two. The largest of these two broken pieces is then wrapped in a smaller white cloth and hidden somewhere in the house, while the children aren't looking. This hidden piece is called the Afikoman.
Afikoman means "that which comes after" or quite literally "dessert". Later in the Seder the children hunt to find this "hidden unleavened bread" and bring it back to their fathers and mothers at the Passover Table. It is then broken into enough pieces for everyone present and eaten together.
Yeshua the Jewish Messiah was lifted up and 'broken', His body wrapped in a white cloth and hidden in a tomb. Out of the three facets of the LORD - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - He is the middle piece, the middle matzah. Matzah is unleavened bread - without yeast - bread without sin. So this middle piece of broken matzah, which is hidden for the children to find and return to their parents, is a perfect representation of Him at the centre of the Jewish Passover Service (Seder).
And why is the largest piece of the broken matzah hidden, while the smaller piece stays with the Father at the Passover table? The answer, I believe, is hidden in the parable of the Prodigal son. The older brother is the smaller piece, which represents the smaller remnant of Israel and this piece stays with the father trying to follow his father's rules. But he doesn't understand grace. The larger piece of matzah, I believe, represents the Gentile church that goes out into the world, increasingly away from his father's land and guidelines.
The part of the Passover night where the children find the missing piece is called Tzafun, which means 'hidden'. The children (the Gentile church) find the 'hidden' Messiah ('the dessert' or 'that which comes after the Abrahamic covenant') and bring Him back to the original family (Jewish people). When they do this, the Passover leader (representing our Father in Heaven) gives the children (Christians) a reward! Jewish children love this part of the Passover night. It's even joked that this reward for finding the hidden matzah is a way to keep the children awake and alert until late into the night. As Christians, the idea of receiving rewards from our Father in Heaven also keeps us, if we're honest, a little more awake and alert to how we are living as Christians, particularly as we move into spiritual night-time. God rewards those in the Gentile church who have ‘found’ Messiah when they then take Him back to share with the Jewish people!
The Passover Seder therefore acts out the mission of the Gentile church. My heart breaks when the Gentile church hasn't done this. Omission is sometimes only lack of heavenly-knowledge and we've all lived like that, and continue to in many ways, until Adonai opens our spiritual eyes more and more. But when the church attacks Israel and boycotts the Jewish people on purpose, I see an unwise and isolated child who doesn't understand their role within the family and will not receive their reward from the Father. This also breaks my heart.
It also struck me that the characteristics of the two brothers in the parable of The Prodigal Son can be seen as very similar to the two peoples. The Jewish people tend to work hard in our work for God, just like the older brother. We sometimes think God's Love is completely dependent on our obedience and rule-keeping. Gentile believers sometimes demand we have all our spiritual inheritance now. “LORD, give us this and that; we want Your blessings in this life!” There is blessing and weakness to both these positions.
In addition, the modern church in this age has also gone off into the world away from the Father's Land and way of life, mixing the purity of the God of Israel with an increasingly secular, morally confused and rebellious world. To a religious Jew the modern church can sometimes look pretty dirty and worldly. On the other hand, to a 'free-spirited' Christian, the Jewish brother can sometimes look boring and too strict with himself. The younger brother ended up mixing himself with uncleanness, because of who he was 'feeding.' Pigs represent uncleanness here. But particularly, the uncleanness that shows one doesn't understand that one is a treasured possession. This is because the Jewish people were commanded not to eat the meat of pigs, immediately after being told by the LORD God that they were His treasured possession: "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth." (Deuteronomy/Devarim 14)
If you think pigs wouldn't have been such a big deal in this parable told to a Jewish audience, then consider that in 1962 a Pig Raising Prohibition Law was passed by the Knesset (except for Arab Christian areas). Even Jews who do not keep kosher sometimes have a psychological aversion to pork and pigs. This may come from Isaiah 66.17, as well as general Jewish identity. Even today, some religious Jews will not say the word pig, instead substituting the words "other thing." So imagine how difficult this parable really was to its original Jewish audience and how far the younger brother really fell.
But, thankfully, the younger brother in the parable wakes up from his bad decisions and realises he must return to the safety of his Father's Land (obedience to His Father's Love). A worldly Gentile church can be forgiven and welcomed back into God’s arms upon repentance. The older brother (Jewish people) who has strived hard to please his Father all this time questions this ‘grace’ and becomes jealous of it. So often in church I have heard teachers focussing on what the Father said to the younger son. And it is very good to hear. But the Father says a beautiful and profound thing to His eldest son also: “You have been with me all the time.” (Luke 15.31) When the modern church thinks in error that the Father of Israel has forsaken the Jewish people, they are not understanding this statement of eternal love to His eldest son hidden in this parable.
Finally, how many of us have ever said The Pig Prayer? You know; "LORD, that "other thing" I did, I'm so, so sorry." So, if we are believers in Jesus/Yeshua, we hopefully recognise that we are all prodigals, whether Jew or Gentile. And our Father loves us very, very much. More than we can imagine. But I pray the modern church remembers what our same Father is still saying to his eldest son: ‘My son,’ the Father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.' This includes the gift and knowledge of the Jewish Messiah.
The father loves both his differently characterized sons very, very much. And He's just waiting for His youngest to come home and clean himself up, and His eldest to learn more of His Grace.
If you'd like to learn more from Passover, please browse Messiah Hidden in Passover.
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