I’ve already spent days, if not weeks, with both the prodigal son and his elder brother. Until now, I really skipped over the father in this parable. Why? I guess I didn’t want to be so bold as to place myself in the father’s role since by most interpretations the father represents God. But as a number of people have pointed out to me, anyone with a four inch tattoo of a cross and stars tattooed on her right forearm is bold, brash, and brazen with her faith. I’ll get to the tattoo is a later post. For now let’s stick with bold and look at Dad.
So Dad has two sons. The older son does all that his father asks of him, patiently learning the family business, knowing that the day will come when he will take over his share of the land. The younger son is not so patient. He doesn’t want to learn. He wants to go out into the world and make his own way. He can do it all on his own and he is eager to prove it. Dad loves them both. He sees their uniqueness and they are very dear to him. He wants to see them grow into fine, strong, good men. He knows they each need to follow their own paths to get there.
One day, his younger son comes to him and asks for his share of the inheritance now. What did Dad do when presented with that request? Did he just pull out a sack of gold coins and send the impetuous young man on his way? Or did he try to reason with his son? Did he ask his elder son to try to talk sense to his kid brother? Given what I do know about the father’s loving response later on, I would be willing to bet my own inheritance that he sat the younger son down and explained that he would give him everything he was asking for, but that it might be more than he was ready to handle. This amount of resources comes with a great deal of responsibility. In the end, Dad allowed his son the freedom to choose for himself. The version of that lecture in my house was, “You have a choice to make. You can choose to do right or you can choose to do wrong. If you choose to do wrong, you have to suffer the consequences.”
I know the rest – kid one takes off, blows through everything, returns broke but alive and repentant while kid two stays on, working hard, and resents the living hell of the welcome home party for this idiot brother of his. But what about Dad? What was he doing while the younger one was gone? I am sure he worried constantly. He knows his sons and he knows the younger one was not ready to accept so much responsibility. I wonder if he heard stories from the caravans of traders about his son’s fast and loose lifestyle. I wonder if he heard of the famine that struck the country where his son was living. I wonder if he feared that his son would starve to death in a far off land and he would never again be able to sit with his child to share a meal.
I know he caught sight of the prodigal while he was still a long way off. Had he left word with the servants and field hands that he was to be told immediately if anyone happened to catch sight of the young man on the road to the estate? Did he look off down the road day in and day out, praying for the safe return of his son? In my home that prayer goes like this, “Please, Lord, let this kid be OK. Let him come home safely. And please, Lord, don’t let me kill him when he gets here.”
Dad’s moment of joy was short-lived because no sooner had the celebration started then the other kid goes off the deep end. The older brother starts in on his father saying that after all these years and all this hard work he never got a party like this. Dad tries to reason with the stubborn elder brother. He pleads with him to see it as the miracle that it is. This younger brother was dead for all they knew and now has been restored to them, a lot thinner and a lot wiser.
I wonder how Dad finally brought the two back together again. They are brothers after all and he wants them to have a good working relationship again. Dad could see them each as individuals. They each had strengths and weaknesses and if they could work together, they would do great things with all that he was giving them.
For me, I have to stop and realize that God isn’t going to give me everything I want, need, and bug Him about all at once. I couldn’t handle it all if He did. I can barely handle what responsibility He does trust me with and even then I manage to screw up more than I get it right. But then, in His great mercy, He forgives me. I can come to Reconciliation and start over anew with His grace. And because He knows me as I truly am, He can smile on me when my Act of Contrition comes out like this:
“Oh my God, I am heartily sorry that I never remember the rest of this prayer that Sr. Mary Lynch tried so hard to drill into my brain. Have mercy on me because You know I am sinner. Grant me the grace to go forward from here and try to avoid these sins.”
And we both know I’ll be back before too long. Bold, brash, and brazen? Yes I am. Better add broken to that list as well.