Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Prodigal Son

Yesterday, in my clergy Bible study group, we had a spirited discussion of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11b-32). It's one of my favorite parables because it is packed with truth. John Crossan called it "polyvalent," which means "having many layers of meaning."

As we discussed each of the characters in this parable-- younger son, elder son and father-- I understood something I hadn't seen before: each of these characters is "lost" in his own way and needs to find a way back "home."

The lostness of the younger son is obvious. He selfishly demands his inheritance and leaves home. He soon squanders his money ("prodigal" means "wasteful") and returns home to beg his father to take him back. He is lost because he has alienated himself from his father.

The lostness of the older son is also clear. He seethes in anger and resentment when his younger brother is warmly welcomed back by his father. He is hurt by his father throwing a welcome home party for his irresponsible brother. He refuses to go into the party, even when his father begs him to come and celebrate.

The lostness of the father is more subtle. His lostness consists in his sons being alienated from each other. He loves both of them deeply and cannot help but suffer at their estrangement. Like a good father, he doesn't intervene but shows them both extravagant grace and love.

If we look closely, I believe we can see ourselves in this parable in each of these characters. We all are lost in our own ways and long to find our way back home. The questions this parable leads me to ponder are: Where is home? How am I lost? How can I find my way back?

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