“But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him . . . [the son] was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
These are words from one of Jesus’ best known – in the religious and secular worlds – parables. The Parable of the Prodigal Son also called the The Parable of Two Sons. But, did you know it can also be referred to as The Parable of the Running Father or The Parable of the Lovesick Father?
While I am not a particularly religious person now (there was a time, but that’s a story for another day), I have been thinking a lot about this story. You know it: the younger son demands his inheritance, runs off, squanders his money and health on wild living, ends up destitute, goes back to his father thinking to become a servant, but his father welcomes him lavishly and joyfully.
For decades, I thought of that story only in terms of the sons: the dissolute behavior of the younger and righteous indignation of the elder. The elder son stays at home and works faithfully; he is disgusted that his father celebrates the ingrate’s return. I always fancied myself the loyal one.
Now, this story paints itself with broader strokes for me. I feel the father’s pain at being asked for inheritance; I feel the loneliness and confusion that the father felt while his son was out of communication: off partying and doing his thing. I can touch the younger son’s painful moment of truth when he realized he’d messed up. I totally get the older son’s anger. But even servants who kill the fatted calf and whose merry-making is heard from far off have a more interesting role. When family comes back home or friends gather, I feel such togetherness more deeply. To quote a TV show, “The air is sweeter when we are all together.”
During the upcoming holiday weeks, we may be faced with a prodigal son or daughter. Has a family member wounded you? Given you the cold shoulder? Spread malicious gossip? Maybe we are those sons and daughters. Did we snap and say things that we shouldn’t have? Perhaps we meant what we said, but we are sad about how it all went down. Perhaps we responded to a friend in a way that we now regret, and we’d really like to catch a movie or have a drink and a chat with that person. What can be done?
No matter who you are in this parable consider this: ’tis the season. Not the Christmas season – it is the season to turn things for the better, no matter who you identify with in this parable. Are you a prodigal son? A lovesick father? An enraged older brother? Folks, so many hard dividing lines are being drawn around this country, indeed, in the world that perhaps if we can look at the story from all the points of view, then, we can soften our hearts and open our minds; then, we might find a peace and a love that we did not know were possible.
It’s worth a try.