Monday, December 17, 2012

Thoughts on The Parable of the Prodigal Son

  • First, why do we call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son? The word "prodigal" is not found in the text itself (at least, not in the KJV, which is the version that would have set the usage in our culture). No one nowadays even knows what the word means ("wastefully extravagant"). If the average Joe knew what the word means, okay. But no one does. Maybe we should call it the Parable of the Wastefully Extravagant Son, or the Parable of the Squanderer.
  • The church song, "God is Calling the Prodigal", implies that the word "prodigal" means something other than "wastefully extravagant"; it implies a meaning closer to "lost hungry runaway". In doing so, the song contributes to misunderstanding.
  • Not only did the son waste the father's assets; he wasted the assets on prostitutes (Luke 15:30). I think this is indicative of both the disdain oriented toward prostitutes and their customers, and the acceptance of men visiting prostitutes if they have the money for it. I'm reminded of Judah in Genesis 38, who had no great problem with visiting a prostitute, although he wanted to keep it quiet, and then his judgmentalism (at first, until his own hypocrisy was pointed out to him) toward his daughter-in-law when he found out she had prostituted herself. I'm not entirely sure what my point is here, but I think it has something to do with humans being ... human.
  • The party included music and dancing. I was raised in a church culture that said "dancing is sin". I'm pretty sure that attitude had its origins in protecting young hormone-adled teens from too much body-to-body stimulation, which is good, but it turned into a "No, you can't participate in the square-dance exercise in your elementary school music class" ruling. I think Jesus, in relating this part of the story with apparent approval, indicates that there's a middle ground on the issue of "dancing". I think he presents that view a lot in his teaching, counteracting our tendency to make hard-and-fast, black-and-white rules which often go to one extreme or the other.
  • I've never quite understood the father's response to the older son. The younger son had indeed squandered the father's wealth, and yet, the father throws a party for him upon his return, and acts like he doesn't think a party needs to be thrown for the older son who has faithfully been a good son. But this time as I read it, something clicked a little for me. Pop is not saying that the younger son gets a start-over with a redistribution again of the wealth still left over; he's just saying, we're celebrating the younger son's renewal to life; the older son still has all the assets ("everything I have is yours"). The older son hasn't lost anything; he's not going to have to give up another half to the the younger son who has squandered all his wealth; it's just a celebration that the younger son is longer estranged from the family. In that light, the father's response makes more sense to me. The younger son still has to pay the price of losing his wealth, but he does now have a comfortable home, and is on good terms again with his dad (not because of what the younger son did - indeed, despite that - but because of the love the dad has for him).
  • The faithful child is jealous that the unfaithful child got to do what he wanted and is yet still accepted. I can't help but think of Paul's discussion in Romans 10:19 and c. Romans 11:11, wherein he talks about Israel, the "son who stayed home", being made jealous that the non-Israelites get to be saved too.
  • The younger son, after squandering his money, had to associate with pigs. For a Jew, that was a big no-no. This son was in the bottom rung of society at this point.
  • This story reminds me of the Benny Hester song,When God Ran.

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