The Prodigal Son: What’s your perspective?
The parable of the Prodigal Son from the Holy Gospel found in Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
I invite you to, as suggested by Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia President David Lose, to think about the parable of the prodigal son from one of three perspectives.
First, a quick review of Jewish inheritance law of the day in this parable: a younger son, who by law was only entitled to half of what his older brother was from their dad’s estate, or 1/3 of the total, has the audacity to basically tell dad “I wish you were dead” and request his inheritance–right then and there. The son not only takes his share, but he leaves the country, blows everything on wine, women, and song, then winds up friendless and in poverty (remember he’s Jewish to boot) working on a pig farm. He’s even starving so badly and so hungry he’s eating from the trough. He decides to go back home to dear old dad, concocts a story whereby he asks to be taken back in as a servant just to get back into the household where he’d at least be fed and clothed. Instead, dad sees him coming from afar, runs (which wasn’t fitting for men to do in those days) to greet him, throws a big party, and welcomes him home. Dad invites the older brother to join the feast and rejoice. But the older brother is jealous, ticked off, and refuses to do so. Dad says to older brother, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”
That’s about it in a nutshell, right?
Here’s what I ask you to do. Think about the three people in the parable. Now put yourself in the shoes of one of the three. Focus and see the events in the story from one of the three perspectives.
- Let’s say you chose the wayward son. Try to transfer his behavior to your context today. How did he behave? He wanted out from the household, didn’t he? He told his dad basically, I wish you were dead so I can have what’s yours right now, not what I’ve earned but what I will inherit. I know it’s not from anything I’ve earned or done to deserve. And by the way, I’m leaving town so I can live it up, spend everything that you’ve given me for my own selfish pleasure. And I’m not going to worry about anyone else in the family–I’m going to have fun, lots of fun, selfish fun.But… how did that work out? He lost everything, came back (it can and is argued whether he was repentant or just made up the story to get back into the household) and returns to a wonderful reception from a loving, forgiving dad. He didn’t deserve it, he didn’t earn it, but dad showed his unconditional love and came through. How might this scenario apply in your own life during this season of Lent?
- Maybe though you chose the role of the dad. Here’s someone who generously gives their beloved child, their youngest flesh and blood, numerous gifts, actually 1/3 of his estate, his inheritance, even before it’s earned. It’s a generous and plentiful bounty–freely given. Some might argue that it wasn’t very responsible, in fact it was foolish for the parent to do that, but nevertheless, it was given without any strings attached, out of love. Later, when the son returns, destitute, having been a terrible steward, made bad decisions, wasted all that that he was given, the parent ignores all of that and instead joyously welcoming back the child, forgiving everything, and celebrating with a feast.
- Maybe that doesn’t work for you. Maybe, just maybe, you chose to see yourself in the role of the older child, the “responsible one.” Something like Mary’s sister Martha. You know, the one who complained to Jesus that Martha wouldn’t contribute to the with preparation for dinner when Jesus came to visit, the one who said to Jesus “make her help” instead of allowing her to loll around enjoying the party when there was work to be done. This figure is the parable is the oldest child, the one who stays home with dad, helps maintain the farm, tends the operation, keeps things going, acts responsibly. What happened? Younger brother returns and gets a big feast thrown on his behalf. Dad says come join the party–but you righteously challenge saying “where’s my party? I’ve been here the whole time working and helping, and you never gave me even a goat for a feast I could enjoy with my friends.” Here your younger son gets all the recognition despite his irresponsible bad behavior for years. His response is “it’s not fair, and I’m not going to be part of this.” Maybe this is the role you see yourself in–the one that feels the most familiar in your own family dynamic or maybe, God forbid, even here at church.
Jesus’ message was spoke in response to those Pharisees who we are told were grumbling about the company Jesus kept–sinners, tax collectors, and even prostitutes, the lowest rungs of society’s ladder.
The message is clear for those who choose to listen and understand: God loves all of us, unconditionally. God’s grace and forgiveness is a gift, freely given, not earned, available to everyone who believes. As we continue our Lenten journey, may God grant the gift of repentance, not only for our neighbor, but in each of us.