the return of the prodigal

The idea of a prodigal son (from the Latin word prodigus meaning “lavish”), who would take half his father’s property, squander it all, and then come back and ask for mercy, is a famous one in western culture. And it’s one of those ideas that comes from the teaching of Jesus.

This story appears only in one of the four gospels – Luke’s. Say what you like about Luke’s gospel, it has a big heart for the lost: for people on the fringes of society. The gospels speak about Jesus as someone who has “come to seek and save the lost”.

By way of context, Jesus is talking to a group of people from a Jewish background who were outside the main, devout group, and there were two other groups of people – the Pharisees: highly religious Jewish people who had non-religious jobs, and the scribes – the professional religious people – listening on too.

15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Luke 15:1-2, ESV

Jesus tells a couple of stories about something valuable that is lost and sought out, and then he tells this parable. (A parable is just a story with a particular message)

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 

Luke 15:11-16, ESV

You can still feel the humiliation and helplessness of this story, even two thousand years later, can’t you? There’s something timeless about this kind of situation, the riches-to-rags story. 

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. 

Luke 15:17-24, ESV

If you don’t know the story, you might think that this is where it ends, but in fact there’s a third act, where the older brother gets right-of-reply.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”

Luke 15:25-32, ESV


origin story

There’s one aspect of the Batman story that is revisited time and time again. The origin story: how a young Bruce Wayne, scared of the intensity of the entertainment they were watching (The Mask of Zorrro”), left the performance early with his parents, ended up in Crime Alley, and saw his parents killed in front of him.

It’s been told again and again. Here’s a mashup someone made. 


What do we make of the origin story of Jesus? Where would we even find the story?

There are four gospels – four biographies of Jesus – in the New Testament. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Mark starts out with Jesus’ cousin – John the Baptist – about to baptise an adult Jesus. John starts out with a discussion about who Jesus is, in abstract terms, and then we see an adult Jesus baptised.

So all the stories we hear in endless Christmas pageants come from just 2 gospels: Matthew (written by a tax collector with a Jewish background) and Luke (written by a doctor / historian).

I want to keep this series concentrating as much as possible on just reading the Bible, so here are a couple of sections of the Bible to read, to see where the ideas you may have heard about Jesus come from.

 Luke tells us the story of a census, the manger, and the shepherds:

The Birth of Jesus Christ
2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 
14 “Glory to God in the highest, 
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 
21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Luke 2:1-21 ESV

 It’s from Matthew that we read the story of the wise men, in the first 12 verses of chapter 12:

The Visit of the Wise Men
2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 

6 “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, 
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; 
for from you shall come a ruler 
who will shepherd my people Israel.”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Matthew 2:1-12, ESV

back to the future and me: understanding the timings of the Christian gospels

My kids are getting older, but they’re still not quite old enough to watch the Back to the Future trilogy. We were talking about Rube Goldberg machines, and the kids love to watch YouTube videos of the different machines that people have made.

I remember the start of Back to the Future, how Doc Brown has set up a machine to feed Einstein a fresh tin of dog food, and the next thing I know, we’re watching the opening titles for Back to the Future.

I first saw Back to the Future on the big screen with my Dad when the movie came out in late 1985: over 31 years ago. A lot has happened in my life since then, and I’ve interacted with that movie and its sequels a number of times over the years, and I still have a strong recollection of the events of the film.

And this wasn’t even a set of events I lived through: just a film I saw.

The back to the future trilogy is particularly interesting because it talks about 30-year intervals of time. The film is set in 1985, and involves journeys to 1955, and later to 2015. Watching the film again in 2015, I was struck by the sense of distance that comes from a 30-year period: just as I was watching a film that looked back to my childhood, my Dad would have been watching a film that looked back on his childhood.

30 years is a long time. And not a long time.

Which brings us to the gospels. As we head back to ancient times, the standards of document copying and reporting change significantly. It was not possible to photocopy the documents you would want to: indeed, it’s more expensive to write things down in general. And so people were better at remembering things they had been told, and tended to have a more formal process for memorisation, and – when something was important enough to write down – it was written in a way that tried to conserve space on the page.

If you date Jesus’ life from a birth in 4BC (should that be BCE?) and death in 33AD (should that be CE), then there’s a gap of some 30-35 years between Jesus’ death and the writing of the early gospels: there are a range of scholarly opinions around the dates of the gospels, but here’s a rough guide:

Mark: 65-70 AD, just before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Roman armies.
Matthew: 75-85 AD (though some say 60-70 AD).
Luke: 80-85 AD
John: 85-95 AD.

Source: Eric Hatfield, Were the gospels written al long time after the event?

I have a pretty good recollection of the Back to the Future films, and the events in them, and as much as I like them, I don’t think they are of eternal significance, nor have I spent a lot of repeated energy learning about them. The people who wrote down the gospels were motivated and well equipped to investigate the events of Jesus’ life, and would have done the best job possible. These documents could still be verified by people who were still alive at the time of circulating them – so there was a built-in fact-checking.

Can we trust the gospels? I think they’re a spectacularly good record of a long distant period of time.

What’s in the gospels? That’s for another post.

movie: Moana

movie: Moana

Since watching this at the movies with my daughter, we’ve bought the BluRay and watched it as a family umpteen times. Largely a story of girl power, a re-imagined Disney princess, a comedy-hero performance from Dwayne Johnson and a great session from Jemaine Clement. There are some concepts around reincarnation and polytheism, which my kids at least have been able to take up as the world of the movie, rather than reality. Between the characters and the story, and the Lin-Manuel Miranda songs, it’s one you’ll find on high rotation, and not mind too much.

Movie: Silence

I wanted to see Silence on the big screen. I also didn’t want to. The Scorsese films I’ve seen have been more in the category of ultra-violent, and filled with characters who little valued human life.

I was glad to have spent the time watching this one. Decades in the making, it tells a story of faith, and what to do when your faith is tested that forces the viewer to think carefully about their own experience. Its lack of soundtrack made me more aware of the sounds around me even days after watching.

former piano


A post shared by David Phillips (@cafedave) on

I spent years learning the piano. I can still remember my late piano teacher – a lady who devoted most of her life to teaching kids like me how to be better musicians – showing me how the sustain pedal works: lifting the dampeners so they no longer press against the strings to cut off each note. Walking past this abandoned soundboard brought me right back to that moment.

cafe: Buck Hamblin, Thirroul

Marvel Street Roasters coffee. 260 Lawrence Hargrave Dr, Thirroul. The original Buck Hamblin ran a shoe store here for three generations of his family, and now it’s a licensed cafe. Ex-White-Horse barista Luke Barrett is at the helm, and is running the show on a hot but quiet Saturday afternoon when I wander in.

Buck Hamblin, Thirroul

Inside, it’s a spacious, well lit place with comfortable chairs and excellent coffee. I have an espresso and a filter, and they’re both well made, and Luke is happy to explain their origins.

Buck Hamblin, Thirroul

And you have to love a place with a lego character on the espresso machine.

Buck Hamblin, Thirroul

Open 7am-4pm every day.