The Parable of the Prodigal Son

The Parable of the Prodigal Son,
if understood and applied,
would have been the end of the religion
of the Jews in Jesus' day,
and would be the end of Christianity as we know it
in our own day.

I will take you through it
and show you what I mean.

First, the Parable, from the New International Version:

Jesus is speaking:

“There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
 
In verse 18, the son "comes to his senses," and reasons,"If I say, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants,' I will be better off by far than I am now.

(This reminds me of The Princess Bride where Mandy Patinkin practices his lines, "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya.
You killed my father. Prepare to die." I envision the son practicing his lines all the way home, and when he arrives there, that is exactly what he says, following the script
perfectly. But it was completely unnecessary.)

Before the son can say anything his father runs to embrace him and kiss him and welcome him home. When the son finally gets his chance and says his line, his father brushes his words away, calling his servants to dress him for the party and make things happen to celebrate the return of his long lost son, and so they do.

But now, the first question.

What would the son have had to do for the father to say, "You are no son of mine! Go back to where you have been, and never even think of coming here again! Hell itself is too good for you and your kind! Get out! Get out! I don't want to see you ever!"

Would the son have had to be gay? Transgender? Perhaps a physician who performed abortions? A drug dealer? A male prostitute? An atheist? What would it have taken for the father
to say, "Be Gone, Damn You!"???

The father would have never said that. I repeat: The father would not ever say that! We will get back to this point.

The religious establishment of Jesus' say would have said it to anyone who was poor and could not pay the Temple Tax. They would have said it to lepers and to the families of lepers. They would have said it to the undesirables of every shape, size, gender, variety.

And so would the so-called Christian church today. All of which have signs on their front lawn saying "All Are Welcome." Because the unstated line is "except those who don't fit the mold." And there are 10,000 ways of not fitting the mold. Asking questions being the most significant one. Particularly questions the church cannot answer.

The parable blows away all concepts of merit and reward and what we have to do to be deserving of such--which forms the basis of why anyone would ever consider going to church: In order to get to heaven when we die. But without having to meet certain stipulations to be accepted into heaven, why bother with the church here and now? Indeed. Why bother?

If our birthright is heaven, or its equivalent, on the other side of death, why bother with the church here/now?

The question is one of those not allowed. 
The thrust of the parable is always quickly redirected to the "repentance" of the son. Never mind that the son did not repent,
never intended to repent, but was simply continuing the con-man routine he was so accustomed to running ("I'll say I'm sorry and get my foot in the door"). The father gave no thought to the son's memorized lines, and welcomed him with the genuine gladness of a father upon seeing his son.

And the elder son shows his true colors in reacting as he did to his brother. "I've never had a party! Yet, this scoundrel get all the glory!" The eldest son's motives are exposed for what they are, playing it smart and inheriting all of the wealth of his father, instead of just enjoying the father for who he was, and his own position for what it was, without thinking about gain or reward, and letting the day be sufficient for itself every day.

That is the attitude/perspective at the heart of self-transparency, simply seeing/being/doing what needs to be done, with no motives/expectations/agendas/plans/opinions/desires beyond doing what needs to be done, when, where and how it needs to be done, for the joy of doing it and the satisfaction of having done it alone.

In each situation as it arises. Forever. 

This is the innocence, integrity, sincerity, spontaneity, transparency that makes us "transparent to transcendence" (Joseph Campbell), and brings the wonder of that which has always been called "God" to life in our life, and we and "the father" become one in this way, and all are blessed by the grace and beauty of "more than words can say" in the here and now of the day-to-day.

Now, back to the earlier point:

In verse 32, the father proclaims, "We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." Two things here: It is the son's birthright to be welcomed home! By virtue of his birth he belongs home with the father and his family! There is no original sin keeping any of us out of the father's good graces! There is no need of redemption! Of repentance! Of confession and penance, and votive offerings and any of the rest of the blah, blah, blah. All we have to do is show up. We don't even have to mean it!

That's the first thing. The second thing is like unto it. The father says about the prodigal son, "This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." The younger son has been raised from the dead! The younger son has been resurrected! We do not have to be redeemed because we are resurrected just as Jesus was resurrected--we are as Jesus is!
We are Jesus!

This is the true meaning of the word "transubstantiation." It is not that the bread and wine of Communion are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus, but that WE are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus, in a "Thou Art That" kind of way!
And so it becomes our birthright on a second level.

Not only are we daughters and sons of our father, and are welcomed into his presence as a right of birth, but also because we are Jesus in the flesh and have been resurrected as he was, dead and now alive, lost and now found. There is nothing more to it than that. It is just a matter of rising and becoming who we are, one with the father, and the son, and the holy spirit!
It is called "Turning the light around."

This is the truth of the Parable of the Prodigal Son for all who have eyes to see, and ears to hear and hearts to understand.

Published by jimwdollar

I'm retired, and still finding my way--but now, I don't have to pretend that I know what I'm doing. I retired after 40.5 years as a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA, serving churches in Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina. I graduated from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Austin, Texas, and Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. My wife, Judy, and I have three daughters and five granddaughters within about twenty minutes from where we live--and are enjoying our retirement as much as we have ever enjoyed anything.

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