A6 PRODIGAL FATHER
St. Luke 15.vv.11-32
~ Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, "Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me". So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout the land, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, "How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands". So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son". But the father said to his slaves, "Quickly, bring out a robe - the best one - and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found!". And they began to celebrate.
Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf because he has got him back safe and sound". Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, "Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!". Then the father said to him, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found". ~
One of the characteristic traits of Christian people is their habit of telling one another stories, sometimes over and over again. This is something that they derive from their Founder, the greatest storyteller of all time. One of the greatest and most popular of Jesus' parables is the "Prodigal Son".
There are many ways in which story telling enriches the lives of Christian people, apart from the obvious entertainment value. Possibly the most important and valuable is self-identification with the characters of the story. The story we are considering is a splendid example of this.
The so-called Prodigal Son of the parable, who becomes a wastrel as the story progresses, began by seeking what many high-spirited youths desire - a break from home, travel and independence. Having received a share of his father's wealth, he led a life of luxury and debauchery until all his resources were exhausted. Having experienced want, misery and a guilty conscience about his way of life, he determines to return home and show heartfelt repentance, trusting that he may obtain at least mercy. His reception by his father who "killed the fatted calf" in his joy at receiving his son safely home exceeded all his hopes and expectations.
Truly the boy had been prodigal and wasteful with his riches, but the one who was truly prodigal in the sense of "lavish" and "bountiful" is the father who lovingly forgives and welcomes back his son. Christian people readily identify with the son because they know they stand in the need of forgiveness and love but none can identify with God the Father in his "prodigality", indeed many might more readily kill the son than the "fatted calf"!
The elder brother who bitterly resented the father's reception of the younger son is one with whom it is easy to identify. "It's not fair!" we hear him say, and he has at least some of our sympathy, until perhaps we remind ourselves that he had remained secure in his home. His service may have been joyless and he may well have been envious of his brother's seeming good fortune when he made the break with home and enjoyed the freedom of the world, but he needed the father to remind him that compassion, love and forgiveness transcend worldly pain and pleasure.