The Parable of the Prodigal
11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.
15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.
17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned ll against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’
20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.
21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned //against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy ll to be called your son.’
22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’’
31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son ll, you are always with me, ll and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
The traditional way of preaching this text is to focus on the sin of the younger son. To cast judgement on him. So, in order to give the younger son any CHANCE at telling his side of the story I want you to imagine something with me.
You are 22.
You’re a computer programmer here in the bay area.
And you’ve been working for this fairly successful company called Facebook for a few years.
Come February, the company goes public and suddenly your shares in the company are worth over a million dollars.
What’s more…your boss gives you a chance to cash out right then.
You decide to take it.
Remember, you are 22 when you answer this question…
What will you do?
- travel the world
- go shopping
- treat my friends to fun parties
- eat at nice restaurants
- buy a place in San Francisco
- Buy a car
- give it away
- start my own business or a few.
Let’s say, for the sake of the story, that you decide to take your money and travel.
You say your goodbyes.
You know your friends and family are jealous. But they’re happy for you, too.
You go to the airport and buy a plane ticket to Bali. You’ve always wanted to go there and you figure you’ll just figure it out as you go. Cease the day!
The best thing about having money is you don’t have to plan ahead.
You board with first class and the attendants already know your drink. They keep them coming.
You settle into your warm, comfy seat and can’t help but smile.
Ahh! This is the life!
You touch down in Bali and your uber is waiting for you at the door. Wow, this place is gorgeous! In the car, you find a killer house on VRBO that you can rent for the week and it is decked out! It’s own pool and hot tub. Surf boards and paddle boards. All you could ever need.
You arrive and it doesn’t take you long to fill the house with your new friends. It’s a 24 hr party.
And you’re like a god. People start treating you differently. You get to make all the decisions. Where to go to eat, what to do for the day, who gets to come along with you as you charter a boat and explore more of the islands.
You buy off the owners of the house and start hiring people.
Man, it’s nice to have people wait on you.
Then, one day…one horrible day… an earthquake hits.
A massive one.
Your brand new house crumbles to the ground. What’s worse, several of your staff and friends die trapped in the rubble.
You try to gather what resources you can find. Leftover food and money, but the town is chaotic and people are raiding each other’s houses and cars. It no longer matters what belongs to who.
You decide it’s just too dangerous to go back in.
You stumble across a church – I had to fit that in – and it makes you think of your family back home. Your friends and family in San Francisco that you left for this adventure.
In this moment of crisis, they are the people you miss. The ones you want to embrace. The ones you want to remind one more time just how much you love them.
The church has this phone emergency system and you wait in line. When you get to the phone, you call up your parents. It’s the only number you know by heart. You ask for money for a ticket home.
They are so happy to hear your voice!
To know that you are o.k.
They’ve seen the earthquake in the news and they hoped you were alive.
They buy you a plane ticket and tell you they’ll be there at the airport, ready to take you home.
A few hours the initial relief wears off and you realize something.
You are lost.
You wander around the streets of rubble and watch and rescue teams pull people from beneath the rubble. Your ears are ringing with the sounds of ambulances, mother’s screaming over their children’s bodies, fire smoke billowing up from the next neighborhood over.
How did you get here?
Where do you go from here?
You can’t just move back in with your parents… can you?
Then what about your work…. will Facebook hire you back after you so quickly took the chance to bail out?
Will anyone take you seriously as a young professional who got rich and spent it all on yourself.
What will you put on your resume for this last year?
You stop. Shake yourself and think, “No one has it together at 22, right?”
Everyone is trying to find themselves. Everyone messes it up the first time around.
Still, you feel like a failure. There’s a sinking feeling in your gut and you realize just how lost you have become.
You know nothing about who you are or what you need to be happy. All you know now is that you aren’t happy and you don’ t know where you belong. As you board the plane, you realize that you are moving back into your parents home. At 22, you’re moving home. That’s the only real option you have. You think about how long it’s been since you lived under their roof. With their conservative values and high expectations for your success.
You start thinking about their neighbors and your siblings.
Crap, your siblings! What are they going to think of your crawling back home to mom and dad for help?
You cringe at what this will be. And by the time you land, you aren’t even sure if you want to see your parents. You haven’t considered the disappointment they will feel for your lack of success. You never called home until you needed them.
You have hit rock bottom. And even in the midst of having a plan, a place to go. you feel lost in your own skin.
The greek word for lost in this parable means “to destroy oneself,” “to self destruct”
It’s more than just lack of a roof and food in your tummy.
It’s feeling unworthy of who you are or what you have.
As you walk off that plane, through customs and security, you realize you are not worthy of your U.S. passport. What did you do to earn this privilege to leave an earthquake torn country and come back safely to home? The images of the rubble and the grieving mothers pass through your mind and you being to tear up.
You hold it together as much as you can, but a few tears fall.
You didn’t do anything to deserve where you are. You don’t deserve to come home.
You reach your parents and they ram into you with their bodies. You can’t hold the tears back anymore. They overflow. You can feel your parents bodies shake. They’re crying, too.
You don’t deserve this kind of affection.
You get home and just as you expected your siblings are not thrilled with your arrival. They’re not quiet about their comments – wishing you could grow up and get it together. You sink further into yourself. Not wanting to call your friends and let them know you’ve moved back home. Grateful for your parents, but not sure what to do with their unconditional love.
You don’t deserve it.
Even safe at home, you feel lost.
If we learn anything at all from this parable, it is that Jesus is pretty concerned with the lost. Just before he tells this parable of the prodigal son, he also tells two other parables of things being lost.
First, the parable of the shepherd. Who has 100 sheep and losing 1, leaves the other 99 in the wilderness and sets off in search of the lost one.
Second, the parable of the woman. Who has 10 coins and losing one, she lights a lamp, sweeps and the whole house and finds it.
Then thing parable, the prodigal parable, where the thing that is lost is a person.
Jesus is drawing a parallel between things we value – livestock in 1st century Palestine. A coin. Our very lives.
All all those things can be lost.
But they can also be found.
For the prodigal son being found meant being reunited with his father.
His physical needs – food, shelter – were met by returning to his father’s household.
His emotional and mental needs – belonging, love, forgiveness.
I wonder what the son nearing his father’s house. We’re not given very much in the text.
We know he feels guilty for messing up.
He feels unworthy of being called his father’s son.
But, I wonder, too if he is scared.
Scared his father won’t accept him back home.
Or, does he know?…. that the bond with his father is so deep that he will always be welcome home.
No matter how much he has messed up. His father will always welcome him home.
There is a German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer who has been credited with sharing the porcupine dilemma.
Schopenhauer observed that in the winter, porcupines gather close together to share heat during the cold weather. But as they draw closer they cannot avoid hurting one another with their sharp spines. They prick one another.
Thus, feeling the pricks of the sharp spines, they begin to separate again to find relief. Only when they’ve separated, they quickly grow cold and need to near each other for warmth.
Schopenhauer and Sigmund Freud have used this metaphor of the porcupine dilemma to explain the human condition.
We desire warmth. The warmth of each other. Of intimate connection and belonging. But no matter the relationship, as we near each other, we cannot avoid our sharp spines pricking those around us. Nor can we avoid being pricked by their sharp spines.
We are constantly choosing between warmth and pain of being pricked or isolation and relief.
When the prodigal lived with his brother and father, he couldn’t stand it! He needed relief from the pain. He needed freedom. To get away!
But the further away he got, the colder he became.
Eventually, he returned to the warmth.
To be found.
And there were definitely some sharp spines prickling in his return. The sharp spines of his confession. “Father, I am unworthy.” And ones of his older brother’s angry protest at his return.
Being home for this younger son will not be without discomfort or consequence.
But he will be warm.
He will be found.