You’ve heard a million sermons on the parable of the Prodigal Son, but when the passage was read in church this morning, I heard three things that I hadn’t heard before:
1. When the younger son was away in a foreign land, he was working – he had a job – but the job was not providing enough for him to get by. What did he say to himself? “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!”
It may be because there was a famine, but nonetheless, the point stands: the father in the story made sure those working to build and maintain his wealth had all they needed and more.
So will we join with the Father in the story, represented by God, and make sure that everyone who works has food enough and to spare? Or will we condemn those who, like the younger son, work in a foreign land as “lazy,” their laziness proved not by their unwillingness to work, but by their poverty?!”
2. The younger son made bad decisions, it is clear. But what is the reaction of his father? Does he shrug his shoulders and say that the boy should’ve made better decisions, and if he had, he wouldn’t be in this mess? Does he provide him with a budget plan and suggest he attend Financial Peace University, and maybe then he’ll be worthy of not starving?
This is not what we find at all! The father immediately brings his son back into attire worthy of a son, and puts food in his belly, and throws a celebration.
So will we join the older brother in insisting that because people may have made bad decisions they are unworthy of a steak dinner or happiness? Or will we join the father in his ridiculous party for an irresponsible person who wasted his money on all sorts of things money shouldn’t be wasted on?
3. How fortunate he was to have a wealthy father. Many people who’ve made irresponsible decisions don’t get have a wealthy father to run home to when they make bad decisions or take a job that won’t support them.
But here’s the twist: The father in the story represents God. (If you think this is going to go Joel Osteen, I have another twist coming for you). The father represents God, whom Ephesians 4:6 declares to be the father of all.
So when we talk about “entitlements,” calling poor people “lazy,” let us remember at least two things: (1) the words of Ephesians, naming God the father of all, and (2) that the son in the story did nothing to earn the celebration. He just came home and there it was.
The older brother was, of course, furious, as he watched his dad, who still owned everything, take away some of the things he’d worked so hard for and give them to his brother who was starving.
The older brother, like many Christians, was confused about what made this son worthy of a celebration and of having more than enough. It was not his labor (he could’ve asked for the party at any time and had it). It was who his father was: the one who owned it all.
David M Schell
I am a doubter and a believer. I have a Master's in Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but because faith grows and changes, I don't necessarily stand by everything I've ever written, so if you see something troubling further back, please ask! Read More.
3 thoughts on “(New) Reflections on the Prodigal”
Oh how I wish I had the courage to post this on my FB wall but am regretfully not strong enough to withstand the deluge of ugly comments my Christian friends would heap upon me. I can, at this point in my Walk and my life, only thank you for continuing to post such helpful and informative articles. Please keep it up.
There’s certainly a lot of ugly in the world—and it seems like I keep getting surprised by it, despite what I think I’ve “learned.” Obviously the prodigal son story can be turned one way or another (I’ve heard several depending on how the pastor votes!), but your main point is wonderful:
Good-hearted people are what makes the community work. Open, generous, devoid of hate—and that’s something hard to find regardless of economic policy. I understand, we’re all injured and ill (and in famine) to one degree or another—but seriously, one deeply good-hearted person was enough to “feed” an entire community in this story.
I’ve seen the “older brother” back in my parents’ old church, but also among Bernie voters (just as a silly example). Sometimes it makes it hard to remember who I’m trying to be safe from.
That’s both the beauty of and the trouble with a story.