Let’s face it, the Father of the Prodigal Son comes off as some kind of superhuman hero.
God the Father, to be specific.
I like to spend time in that low, quiet quarter of my soul that sort of rumbles about looking for meaning and connection with the rest of the world.
And it interests me when I feel the wind with the same kind of whisper on it blowing by me.
A mumble here, a shrug there.
It is there in the world: the grumbling against the mighty spirituality of God.
I know it’s in me. Grumbling about the vast difference between the absolute that is God and my hunger pangs which are relative.
Relative to me.
They relate to me. And my stomach.
And in those moments, I really don’t care about God’s absolute need to get his will done.
Instead, I want my lunch.
With or without prayers beforehand.
And I think that the Parable of the Prodigal Son lays a lot of that exact same grumbling at our feet.
Jesus wants to tell it to show how vast and open the heart of God is when faced with rebellion and disobedience and disrespect.
I forgive you everything.
But, really, whether he meant to or not, Jesus told a very complex tale with a lot of layers. Some seen. Some unseen.
As I’ve written about before, where was the boy’s mother in all of this? Or the other women’s voices?
But let’s start at the beginning.
The Father gives away the boy’s inheritance.
To the boy.
Before the Father is dead.
So the boy, it seems, disgraced the family by his asking and receiving.
So THE FATHER abetted in the disgrace of the family.
So The Father = God The Father.
God The Father abets in the disgrace of, what? the world? Civilization?
If we go back to the Garden of Eden we have to ask if actually planting a tree of the knowledge of good and evil wasn’t a similar act.
Mankind could not have gotten offtrack without it.
Or without the snake, for that matter.
That God created.
God provides the props for our downfall, then punishes for using them.
Free Will tested in our first few breaths of life. And we failed the test.
We could walk through the Bible with a similar search: Could Cain have killed his brother with the emotion of envy?
That God created?
Is everything we do a test from God? To see if we will overcome his temptations?
I’ve always savored, in a way, the line in the Lord’s Prayer, Lead us not into temptation.
I’ve been informed that I shouldn’t read it the way it is written (a very popular position in Bible study: these are not the words you think they are).
But I like them just the way they are.
You, You, God, tempt us and we’re not so good at resisting these temptations. So, please stop it.
Seems pretty accurate to me.
Back to the beginning.
Why did the Father say, Yes, to the boy?
Under the conditions, it seems more an act against the family than for the boy.
Disgracing the family. Throwing away money that could be used to make more money while the Father was still alive.
Allowing the son to go and waste the money, and possibly ruin his own soul for all time.
As parents, do we give money to our children to use for drugs?
If so, why do we do this? Pity? To ease their suffering from the lack of them?
We certainly don’t give our drug-addicted children money for their drugs because we want them to come to their senses one day and return home on their knees.
Or do we?
Do we allow our children the means to hurt themselves so that they can say, Sorry, and we can have the opportunity to forgive them?
Seems a bit bent, doesn’t it?
Almost like emotional manipulation.
I’ll be the generous hero when you sober up. And I’ll be waiting right here for you. You can bet on it.
So the Father is the hero.
And the Prodigal is the wrung-out dishcloth waiting to hung out in the sun to dry and be made fresh again.
Look! Shoes! Clothes! Food!
The fatted calf, perhaps?
Just waiting for the slaughter?
And here comes the Priest for the job: the older brother.
And the Priest cries out against the injustice.
He sees very clearly what is wrong with this supposed happy family reunion.
And it does.
The family has been robbed and disgraced through the choices of the Father. And now the robber is made the Man of Honor at the banquet.
Slime boy is now the hero?
First the Father.
Then the boy.
But never the Brother. The one who has been slaving away all his life for the good of the family. Putting money into the coffers. As opposed to giving it away to be wasted.
Why did Jesus tell this story anyway?
It could have been just a retelling of the shepherd deserting his 99 sheep for the lost one. If he’d filled it out some the two stories might be more alike: The shepherd returns with the lost one only to find his full flock devastated by an attack by a pack of wolves.
You desert a whole bunch and go after one, you might just very well lose the whole bunch.
That’s life on Earth.
Maybe not the way God sees it.
There are potential costs for every decision we make.
And that lost sheep? He didn’t take down the sheep herd in his leaving.
So we have three areas where we can question the Father:
- for giving the son his inheritance early
- for taking the older son for granted and never openly acknowledging him
- for not holding the boy accountable
In the end, it takes our breath away to turn and confront God.
Like the older brother.
And like them both, we get a wave of a hand of God, and a basically, Whatever, from him.
Kind of like trying to confront a train engine because it has gone off-track.
In the end, the train doesn’t care, even if devastation is the result of its route.
But that’s it, isn’t it?
We never get to say to God, This hurts.
It’s a profound admission to make. But it’s always there.
Does the Older Brother ever feel peace in his soul? Does he ever comes to terms with this blanket forgiveness that his younger brother received?
Does he resent all that work he’s put into the farm, only to have to share the results with his dissipated sibling?
Where do we go with this discontent?
I guess, in the end, all we can do is ask for help from God with it.
And pray that one day we understand.
The Father’s choices. The Prodigal’s cruelty. The Brother’s rightness.
It’s all God.
It’s all us.
And that, I suppose, is the real problem.