And rising up, he came to his father. But he yet being far away, his father saw him and was moved with pity and he ran and fell on his neck and fervently kissed him. (Luke 15:20)
Now what about that kiss? A couple of people have asked over the years about the fact that there are two men kissing in the Bible. Doesn’t that indicate there is a homosexuality in "the Book"? People come up with strange questions it seems. It all depends on how we view what we read from our perspective. We have to learn to interpret the Bible from a 1st Century Jewish perspective to understand it fully (see Gemz 1034). It is very much a cultural thing. When I was at Bible College I sat in a mission/ anthropology lecture focused on how normal human practices can vary across cultures. There were numbers of examples used. Brian Woodford, the lecturer, told us of his experience while kissing his wife, Miriam, goodbye in the village before he went off on a survey trip. The Birafor people (of Burkina Faso) almost fell on the ground laughing at what they had just seen. They asked, "Why did you rub your lips together like that?" Brian explained that is what "we" do to express affection for a loved one, especially if we are going away for a while. They laughed again viewing such a practice as ridiculous. Brian then asked them what they did to express affection. A Birafor man came close and reaching up to Brian, who is tall, proceeded to rub circles on Brian's head with his hand. Just like Brian said, it wouldn't "do it" for me. Rubbing circles on my head is not going to satisfying me. I like the cultural practice of kissing. Rubbing circles on the head isn't as satisfying.
Sitting in the class beside my new found friend Saxon Talo from the Solomon Islands I could receive this information and process it and file it away under the heading "makes sense". Yes I can understand there can be cultural differences around the world:- how we eat, sleep, show affection and other human responses we take for granted. We all think our cultural way of doing things is the right way. As we left the class, Saxon grabbed my hand and held it. What I had just heard in class as an illustrative example but still theoretical, suddenly had become real. Saxon and I had spent time together over the weeks before and had become friends. I could cope with the fact that by holding my hand Saxon was conveying to me that I was his friend. But experientially I had never held hands with a man before. It felt "weird". Not only that but what had been theory in class and that which everyone had heard was now being playing out before students who had not been in the class and didn’t know the context just explained by Brian in the class. Now what would I do?
I left my hand in Saxon's because I knew what it meant to him and I didn’t care what the others thought. But the contrasts suddenly escalated when we walked out of the campus environment and out on to the drive and coming toward us were two Aussie guys. I knew what Saxon thought about us holding hands and how he interpreted it. I could cope with that. I knew what I thought about it, especially having just had it explained to me in class by Brian. But I also knew what these two Aussies would be thinking about it. In fact I could see what they thought about it by the looks on their faces. Now, what would I do about it faced with their reaction and what I knew they would do with that information on campus? Answer at the end of this Gemz.
This all lies in the realm of the cultural interpretation of human activity. It is this that we need to take into account when we interpret actions written about from the culture of Palestine in the 1st Century AD. We must view it through their eyes in the 1st Century and not our eyes and what it means in the 21st Century. After all cultures, even our own, keep changing. Actions are interpreted differently over time. Be careful not to superimpose your modern understanding on an ancient cultural practice.
In this case of "that kiss" recorded in the prodigal story, it is highly significant. A kiss in those times was a symbol of greeting and affection. But it was also a symbol of reconciliation, especially when initiated by the one who had been wronged. It evidenced to the perpetrator that all was forgiven. This is highly significant in the context of the return of the younger son. The boy had been faced with the prospect of running the gauntlet of Kezezah. He has had to summon up his courage to brave this beating in order to become a hired hand of his father, with whom he himself has broken relationship. The only one who is able to save him from this experience is the one he has wronged – his father. He expects his father will reject him. He has no expectation of being accepted. If his little speech was a ploy to get back in his father's good books as some suggest, at best it is going to take a long while of bowing and being subservient.
Suddenly his father is kissing him fervently as the NLT text says. This segment can also be translated as kissing him over and over repetitively. It is likely to be both. The son would be left in no doubt as to how his father feels about him now. His father can't stop kissing him. Notice that the text says "he fell on his neck". This is a Hebraism. Yes it means to hug someone around the neck, but the neck is also important as being that part of the anatomy used to show disrespect. Turning the "nape of the neck", the back of the neck toward a person is the height of rudeness and impudence. In fact it is also the symbol of rejection and being stiff-necked. That is exactly what this son has done to the father by his past actions. Everyone is expecting this father to reject the son who has so demonstratively rejected him by asking for his inheritance before the father died, idiomatically telling the father he wished he were dead. Now this father fervently and repeatedly kissing THAT SAME NECK which rejected him.
"That kiss" is highly significant and a major message of reconciliation and forgiveness. The son has been restored. No, the kiss has nothing to do with homosexuality and everything to do with affection, reconciliation and forgiveness. And what did I do being caught holding hands with Saxon in front of those two loud mouthed Aussies? I kept my hand in Saxon's and actually squeezed his hand as a sign of my friendship with him. That experience prepared me for future ministry in Indonesia where for a man to hold hands with a man or a woman to hold hands with a woman is perfectly normal. Giving a kiss on the cheek or rubbing cheeks is also normal, men with men, women with women or even mixing the sexes. It is not as "bad" as greeting a Maori in NZ with a hongi (rubbing noses together). To each his own.
The mouth is made for communication, and nothing is more articulate than a kiss. Jarod Kintz
A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous. Ingrid Bergman
Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves. Albert Einstein
A kiss blown is a kiss wasted.
A kiss can be a comma, a question or an exclamation mark.
A kiss can communicate fervent love or betrayal. Just ask Jesus.