Lent Reflection: The Fattened Calf

 Father: ‘Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.’

Servant: ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

Older Son: ‘when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

– Luke 15.23,27,30

The Fattened Calf has caught my attention today. It’s interesting really, often when we want to look into the meaning of something we look for something older to give it context. However, simple (and not overly scholarly) searches tend to explained ‘fatted calf’ in reference to this story! Wikipedia even has a table of cultural works which reference the story of the prodigal son through using this phrase.

The context in the story alone tells us quite a bit, though.

  • It’s rare to kill the fattened calf.
  • It’s considered immensely valuable or luxurious (compared to a goat).

More than this, there’s a couple of contrasts which I think are actually rather significant.

  • The feast and celebration of the fattened calf is in direct contrast to the poverty and starvation faced by the younger son in the famine struck land.
  • The context of the feast, with his father’s household, is a major contrast to the company he would have kept during his ‘wild living’. Indeed, in returning home the younger son is greeted in reality with the ideal which he had distorted, fantasised about and pursued.

Again, a simple feature of a familiar story but actually it’s quite thought provoking and interesting.

There’s another contrast to consider though; the story ends with a giant, all out celebration of family love, of forgiveness, joy, and reconciliation.

And we’re hearing about it because,

‘the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

– Luke 15.2

What a statement from Jesus about what he’s about, why he’s eating with these sinners.



…is this a meal the Pharisee are invited to?


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