Re: [XTalk] Parable of the Two Sons (Mt 21:28-31)
- To: Crosstalk
In Response To: Bob Schacht
On: Parable of the Two Sons
The passage at issue is Mt 21:28-31
Bob: Is Jesus saying that what you do is more important than what you say?
Bruce: I think the parable is saying that the second effort is what
counts. That is made clear in the ending, a sort of self-commentary.
It is not the front runners, which would be the conspicuously pious
Pharisess, but the late repenters, said in the parable to be tax
collectors and whores, who will gain the goal. I can't agree to
reinterpret the parable in terms of modern observed shame cultures; as
the parable itself says, the thing is who does the will of the father.
And it makes the point that those who do the will of the father may
not be who you thought. There is nothing in the story itself to bring
in considerations of shame or respect; the only theme of the story is
obedience, in the context of initial expectations.
That would be my answer, but the parable itself poses other questions
which are of interest to me. Among them: (1) Do we have the parable in
its correct form (Bezae differs drastically). (2) Does the meaning of
the parable agree with the setting into which Matthew puts it, since
if not, the parable is probably older than its use by Matthew. (3)
Relation to parallels in Lk and elsewhere. (4) And so on.
1. Text. Not to go into detail, but it looks to me like Bezae is here
the inferior version; a metathesis of elements which is inconsistent
with the internal question in the parable. I would stay with the
standard text. There is still a choice between Vaticanus and
Sinaiticus (each preferred by some modern authorities). I defer that
2. Goulder (Midrash 414) holds that Matthew made up the parable for
its value in expounding the immediate lesson of this chapter. Jones
(The Matthean Parables 399) calls this "simplistic" in light of his
previously cited Rabbinic parallels. Snodgrass 267 cites those, along
with some Hellenic ones, eg Dio Chrysostom. There were certainly such
comparisons in the rhetorical air, both Rabbinically and otherwise.
But they would have been as available to Matthew as to Jesus, and I
see no reason in those parallels (all of which are inexact) to posit
an earlier, let alone a dominical, stage of the parable proper.
3. The Prodigal Son. Much discussed, and perhaps not devoid of
ultimate interest (as they stand, the Two Sons is unique to Mt, and
the Prodigal to Lk). I think Snodgrass is right to note how little
detail is in common between the two, but though we may safely say that
the Prodigal is not a failed scribal copy of the Two Sons, that does
not preclude more creative digestion and de novo realization on Luke's
part. I suspect it is worth keeping in mind, as we go about our other
4. Bacon Studies 313-314 points to Lk 15:11-32 (the Prodigal) as a
parallel to the beginning of the Two Sons, and to Lk 7:29-30 as a
parallel to the moral drawn at the end, where the connection is made
with John the Baptist. Since the latter is in effect a parenthesis in
Luke, the narrator's interpretive aside to the reader, that is a not
impossible suggestion. All this would be interesting to consider in
the light of the Mt and Lk take on John the B, for which again there
is no room in this note.
But John the B was a difficult issue for the second tier Synoptists,
and I think the difficulty of dealing with that issue may possibly
explain some of the narrative awkwardness in the Two Sons piece as it
stands (as a story, the Two Sons parable is no more narratively
coherent than the Parable of the Two Wives in Mencius). They had to
affirm John, but they also had to play him down in light of the
increasing divinization of Jesus which was also going on at the time
of Mt and Lk, and in part under their hands.
Or so it looks from here.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst