Between Noon and Three: A Parable of Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace

Capon, Robert Farrar

Harper & Row, 1982

pp. 73 - 74

In Jesus’ story of the prodigal son, “the fatted calf is the supreme sacrament. Grace is in order to the celebration of life: ‘Let us eat and by merry, for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ Indeed, grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world. It is a floating cosmic bash shouting its way through the streets of the universe, flinging the sweetness of its cassations to every window, pounding at every door in a hilarity beyond all liking and happening, until the prodigals come out at last and dance and the elder brothers finally take their fingers out of their ears.”

p. 152

On the parable of the prodigal son: “The first thing I think you have to say is that while you and I may be worried about seeming to give permission [for prodigality], Jesus apparently wasn’t. He wasn’t afraid of giving the prodigal son a kiss instead of a lecture, a party instead of probation; and he proved that by bringing in the elder brother at the end of the story and having him raise pretty much the same objections you do. He’s angry about the party. He complains that his father is lowering standards and ignoring virtue–that music, dancing, and a fatted calf are, in effect, just so many permissions to break the law. And to all that Jesus has the father say only one thing: ‘Cut that out! We’re not playing good boys and bad boys any more. Your brother was dead and he’s alive again. The name of the game from now on is resurrection, not bookkeeping.’”

p. 154

Capon discusses whether the father’s excellent treatment of the returning prodigal is a kind of permission for repetition of his poor behavior: “from anybody’s point of view but the fire department’s, rescue can be seen as and taken for permission [to play with fire]. But it isn’t. End of subject (You can make the same point with the illustration of an infallible lifeguard: the knowledge that rescue is guaranteed can and does lead idiots to go out in surf nobody should swim in. But the lifeguard can’t let that consideration interfere with his rescuing). In other words, people may take permission from grace, but the rescuer never gives it.”