Dr. Sam Soleyn mentioned three key symbols in Jesus’s story of the prodigal son in his recent teaching sessions entitled “The Mindset of the Orphan” (please see http://www.soleyn.org/download_materials.html).

When the prodigal son returned to his father, the father gave him three things. Each of these gifts were symbols of status in the ancient world.

1.  A robe. The robe is a symbol of identity. To put on the robe of another was tantamount to identifying yourself with that person. (Consider the custom in Latin American countries of a president wearing the national sash over his or her right shoulder. Here, the president is identifying his or her self with the nation and accepting the responsibility of representing it.) In the times of Jesus, a slave or household servant could not wear a decorative robe; only an honored son could wear the robe of his father. It was a mark of distinction and privilege.

2.  A ring. A ring is a symbol of authority. As with the robe, only a privileged son could wear the ring of his father. This was not the authority of self-will; rather, it was authority given freely from a father to his son. It was the type of authority where the son could show the ring and rightfullly say, “I’m doing this in the name of my father”.

3.  Shoes (Sandals). Shoes were the sign of ability and purpose. Only slaves would go barefoot. A son of a wealthy house must be given shoes. Shoes provide the ability to walk about in relative comfort.

Please notice also in the story that not only did the father give these gifts freely to his son, but he had ordered that these gifts be given quickly, without any delay. The status of the returned son was restored immediately and without any conditions.

In the story, therefore, we see a restoration of identity, authority, and purpose without any conditions when a lost son returned to his father. And it is these three symbols that tell us that story of restoration in a deeper, richer way than words alone could.


For a comparison of Jesus’s story of the prodigal son and a similar story in Mahayana Buddhism, please see:



Something Greater Than Solomon Is Here

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on January 01, 2009

Jesus said many radical things. One of the things that he said was that “something greater than Solomon is here”. Jesus said this in response to certain religious leaders of his time. These religious teachers and scribes had asked to see a visible, miraculous sign from Jesus.

It was clear in the rest of the gospels that Jesus could and did perform miracles (signs). Yet Jesus never performed miracles because he was commanded to do so by other people. If he had done so, it would have demonstrated that he had had the power but not the authority to do what he was doing. It would have shown that he was working under the authority of earthly authorities, religious or political.

To Jesus, authority was more important than power. It was the authority of Jesus that first impressed the people who had first listened to him (see Luke 4:31-32). And, later on, the direct question of authority from the religious leaders led to the puzzling response that Jesus gave back to them: A question about authority that they chose not to answer. This led Jesus to say to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” To Jesus, you must know who truly are before you can know what to do. To humanity, the natural thought process is usually reversed: in other words, might makes right. If you have the power, then others must obey you. For Jesus, this was not the way of life, … the way of love.

For the people of Jesus’ time, Solomon, the son of the great king David, was the most powerful and most wise king. Solomon reigned almost 1,000 years before Jesus. His kingdom’s boundaries were greater in extent than at any other time in the history of Israel. The capital of Jerusalem was so wealthy during his rule that silver was considered to be as though it were worthless: only gold was valuable. And, of course, his wisdom was legendary. In Jesus’ time, the authority of Solomon as a great king was unquestioned.

For Jesus, however, Solomon the king was a symbol, a shadow of something greater that would ultimately come later in history. Solomon’s reign was one of visible displays of greatness. Yet, with this story about Solomon in the common thoughts of everyone in his society, Jesus made the amazing statement that something greater than Solomon was there.

Rather than the restoration of the kingdom of Israel to the greatness of the days of Solomon, Jesus spoke of another kingdom, the eternal kingdom of God. What is the kingdom of God? Rather than answer that question directly, Jesus invites us here to think about the greatest rulers that the world has ever seen. (And don’t restrict yourself only to thinking about political rulers: think about business leaders, scientists, and others, also, who have made significant contributions for the greater good.) Then, once you have carefully considered the greatest qualities of each of these rulers and their kingdoms, then consider each of them, even at their very best, to be a mere shadow and preview of the goodness of God ruling in and through people. … And what is goodness? It is power carefully constrained under proper authority to do things that will be beneficial to others, especially the less powerful, in love. … When goodness is reflected from God into the world, then this is the kingdom of God, and this kingdom has a king.

The familiar leads to the unfamiliar. The knowledge of the best of the kingdoms of this world present a shadow and a type of the kingdom of God.