Looking again at the Parable of the Prodigal, it occurs to me that the protagonists, all three, are prodigal – outrageously profligate, extravagantly wasteful.
The younger son improvidently requests his inheritance, in effect, crassly wishing his father was dead; forsaking, wasting – and belying any operative evidence of memory of or gratitude for years of – his father’s kindly care. Then, sojourning afar, recklessly squandering his money, neither via ill-timed investments nor ill-advised, though praiseworthy charitable largesse, but in “dissolute living.”
The father demonstrates a consistent and prodigious prodigality (leading some to call this parable not, as still common, the Prodigal Son, but the Prodigal Father; yet, given my sense, again, that all the characters exhibit an innate prodigality, I refer to the tale as the Prodigal and perhaps I might say the Prodigals!). First, in consenting to the impudent request of his younger son, who, I imagine, the father could have guessed (should have known?) would squander his birthright. Then the father sees his broke and broken wastrel son “while he was still far off,” meaning the father had been watching and waiting with the vigilant patience of love. We are assured the father is inspired by love, for, seeing his child, he is “filled with compassion.” Then the father runs, involving the indecorous necessity of pulling up the hem of his robe to free his legs. Then the father, not allowing his child to grovel penitently before him, “puts his arms around him,” treating him as an equal. Then the father “kisses him,” the Greek connotes fervency, indicating repeated PDA! Then the father interrupts his son’s pitiable confession, pronouncing no rightful judgment, demanding no equitable recompense, but rather bestowing “the best robe” (probably his own!), “a (signet) ring,” bearing the family seal, a symbol of prominence, “and” no longer the bare feet of a servant, but “sandals,” a sign of sonship. Then the father calls for the slaughter of “the fatted calf,” preparing not for a familial, but a communal feast so that all may “eat and celebrate.” Why? “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” (At this point, I would encourage, expect the younger son, if he had a smidgen of sense, a soupçon of awareness of his good fortune, to burst forth in song: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now I’m found!”)
The elder son, who, as an “elder” is a prominent person, perhaps the COO of the family business, is “in the field” hard at work (and, I presume, for whatever reason, not invited to the party!). He asks a servant (highlighting the demeaning irony of a superior inquiring of a subordinate) for information. Enraged by news of the celebration of his brother’s return, he refuses to take part. From a human perspective, the elder son’s angry reaction and rejection of the “opportunity” to honor his dishonorable brother, who he has disowned, for he soon speaks to his father referring to “this son of yours,” makes sense. Hard to fault him, and, in my experience, most folk reflecting on this story energetically take the elder son’s side. So where’s his prodigality? I hear it in his response to his father’s pleading. First, he, with little trace of humility, makes his case for having earned his father’s respect: “For all these years I have worked like a slave for you. I have never disobeyed your command. Yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends!” Then , given his father’s response, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours,” clearly the elder son never accepted heartfelt possession of all the property and power that his father, by the gift of grace, already had given unto him. The elder son, in dissimilar fashion, but no less indisputably than his younger brother, has forsaken, wasted – and belied any operative evidence of memory of or gratitude for years of – his father’s kindly care.
I identify with the prodigals. All three.
Have I been prodigal in wastefully forsaking love and acceptance offered to me by others because of my guilt about things I’ve done and my shame, because of it, about who I am? Yes, though I pray not to the extent of the younger son’s dissolution and I pray for his spirit of acceptance of the welcome he received!
Have I been prodigal in the extravagant bestowal of love’s forgiveness on those who have harmed me? Yes, though, never having drawn close the breadth of the father’s munificence, I pray for more grace to attain to his unconditional generosity.
Have I been prodigal in wastefully forsaking opportunities to share love, showing forgiveness to others I charged and condemned as unworthy? Yes, and, given how the parable ends with so much unresolved, in situations when another and I find ourselves at odds, I pray to write a new chapter bringing to life the power of pardon.