The Prodigal Son

“They key is actually that in the story of the prodigal son the son is returning. There’s no indication of return, for any reason, in this situation and in many in which the parable is invoked.

“Jesus could have told a parable in which the father went and ran after the prodigal son’s party set shouting, ‘Hey guys! Hey guys! Can I come too? I’m a cool guy too!’ and imagined that perhaps by coming along he would evangelize the party-ers — using words only if necessary (to paraphrase the famous yet bogus St. Francis quote.) He could have told a parable in which the son comes back, unrepentant, and offers to throw a party at the father’s house, making the father an honorary master of ceremonies. He could have told a parable in which the son comes back, the father rushes out to meet him, but the son turns out to only be returning to wash his laundry and borrow some more money.

“However, these are not the parables that Jesus chose to tell…” — The Prodigal Son Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

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8 Replies to “The Prodigal Son”

  1. I’d never thought of it this way before, but– using a guy who is associated with animals because he preached to birds when nobody else showed up as justification for not using words is kinda backwards.

    1. Yes. Your comment at the linked article, about the father having thought his son dead, is a good insight as well.

      1. Thank you.

        It’s right there, but I’d been told so many times that the parable was about just “accepting” that it hadn’t sunk in what the brother’s response meant. It took someone who’d had an understand-Arabic-culture course, who then applied it to explain the context, to make me realize that the dad wasn’t being dramatic, and the elder brother was being really harsh, not just whining.

  2. The prodigal son does repent, and yes, that’s the only reason he can be received joyfully by the father. (Though, incidentally, doesn’t the father run to him before he’s sure that he’s back with repentant motives? Maybe he assumes, or maybe he’s so happy to see him alive that he doesn’t care, or maybe one can overthink it?) And really, I can’t understand any mental mind games that can get the parable of the prodigal son to apply in the context of the parade at the linked article. I mean, really.

    However, as much as I favor the YOU HAVE TO REPENT AND KNOCK IT OFF WITH THE SINNING interpretation in any situation, I do think there is an element of the father searching for a lost son in the parable that we wouldn’t want to miss. Jesus is talking to the pharisees, who are complaining about the sinners. He starts with the lost sheep, in which the shepherd goes to search for the lost one, and there’s a celebration when it’s found. He moves to the woman with the lost silver coin, who searches frantically and thoroughly until it’s found and then celebrates with her neighbors.

    Then he tells of the prodigal son. He repents, returns, and there’s a celebration. He’s been found and fully embraced, but not really searched for. There’s the older brother basically hating the younger out of jealousy and spite, and generally caring more about things being fair and him getting the appreciation he feels he deserves than about having his brother back alive(!) (or even just being happy because the father he presumably loves is happy).

    But then there’s the fact that the father *goes out to plead* with his older son to join them in the
    celebration, which is just as demeaning and undignified and undeserved as running out to meet the son who has scorned him and returned.

    Jesus wanted to save the pharisees too, and perhaps in this set of three parables, the thing being
    searched for in the third one is sort of (partly, also) the older son, only there’s no celebration for that….yet.

    1. Maybe you have the answer right there?
      doesn’t the father run to him before he’s sure that he’s back with repentant motives? Maybe he assumes, or maybe he’s so happy to see him alive that he doesn’t care, or maybe one can overthink it?
      and
      He’s been found and fully embraced, but not really searched for.

      The father saw his son “a long ways off,” because he was watching, and hoping beyond all hope that his son was coming back– even when it seemed impossible.

      ****

      musings:

      The difference between this story and the sheep or the ancient dime is that the thing sought for decided to go back.
      Ironically, the way a lot of folks interpret it? The son doesn’t get to choose to change his ways, it’s all up to the father. Just like the dime doesn’t choose to show up, and the sheep didn’t get to decide to just avoid the shepherd.

      1. “hoping beyond hope- even when it seemed impossible”

        It’s a wonderful picture, isn’t it?

        That would be an odd interpretation, that he son didn’t get to choose. It seems that one of the points is that, as you say, unlike the sheep and the coin, we have to cooperate to be found. That makes it a little scary and precarious, but at least there’s someone watching and hoping.

        Almost unrelated, but I sometimes hear people accuse God of being prideful (whenever there’s an expectation that we’ll praise Him or something), and this parable really eliminates that as a sensible conclusion.

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