The Prodigal Son was never one of my favorite stories but one that has a special place in my heart. No good Christian wants to have the tag of a “Prodigal” but if we have been down that road we should wear it as a badge of honor.
A father has two sons, the younger desires to venture out into the big bad world and sow his wild oats. He not only wants an advance on his promised and rightful inheritance, he wants the whole enchilada. His Father agrees, reluctant or not, hands over to his younger son his shares in the family business in hard cold cash.
Our prodigal didn’t waste any time, his bags packed and as it reads “not many days after” securing his inheritance he was off and running, sprinting to his new and exciting life and “took his journey into a far country”. In other words, contrary, in my opinion, to the metaphorical belief that a far country is ‘far off the track, far from God” and so on, my belief the far country means that a faraway country and, in those days, outside of walking, horseback, donkey back, horse and carriage then throw in boat travel, transportation was limited and if you were travelling abroad you needed the means to get there and our young traveller spared no expense in getting as far away from home as he could.
As told in Luke 15, the protagonist of the story wasted all his money on ‘riotous living’ and I think we can all use our imagination on what riotous looks like. I would say wine, women and song but in my younger days, it was sex, drugs and rock and roll. Throw in a coliseum or two for placing bets on chariot races at the local racetrack, stop in the local casino for a game or two of blackjack or roulette, how about a Ponzi scheme from those whose integrity and honesty is suspect. Con men are everywhere preying on the weak and vulnerable. The list is endless.
Before you know it, our prodigal spent every penny to his name and to add salt to his wounds “a famine rose in that land”. To me this indicates the prodigal was away for a very long time. Famines don’t just show up, they happen over a long period of time.
What now for our penniless adventurer? “He went and joined himself to a citizen of that country”, and was sent by his new employer to feed and look after the pigs. Degraded so as to steal some of the pigs food, dry husks of corn. Nothing like an empty stomach over a long period of time to bring you to your senses. He was starving and our prodigal knows now his only option on the table is to eat humble pie and swallow his pride (pun intended), beg for mercy from good old dad. He thought, “I will make him an offer he can’t resist. I’ll agree to work alongside his workers, the servants if need be, no matter the task for as long as it takes to get back into his good graces. I’m that desperate.”
With his tail between his legs the prodigal ventures home as the story continues, “he arose and came to his father”.
I can picture his father sitting on his front porch each evening after a hard day’s work on his farm and a tummy filling dinner with a glass of wine and perhaps enjoying the smell and taste of the tobacco in his pipe as he relaxes on his rocking chair watching the sun set staring into the distance never losing hope that his son is ok and if God wills, will eventually come home safe and sound.
On one of these evenings dad’s heart leaped when he saw his son way off in the distance, so what did he do? “…he had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” The reunion had to be a tear jerker. The son profusely apologizes and is just happy to be home looking forward to a hot bath, clean clothes, a good home cooked meal and that is exactly what he got and more.
Let’s not talk about the older son just yet because the older son is a story that only an older brother can tell. Everything in Jesus’ story telling is self-explanatory except in my humble opinion, one vital piece of the puzzle seems to be missing.
I have had the privilege of being a prodigal and I can attest to everything that has been written about leaving home, making a mess of my life, desperate and destitute, in dire need and coming to my senses willing to do anything to get back to where I belonged. Yet, nothing in the parable makes mention of how the wayward young man got back home. He went from deciding to humble himself, go home and throw himself on the mercy of his father to embracing asking and being forgiven.
We can be mistaken by thinking that from the time we come to realize what a shit we’ve been and the mess we made of our lives that somehow, we will be miraculously transported back to the way things were. No, life does not work that way. We are responsible for our decisions even though we come to a place where we realize the mistakes, we have made that ‘going back home’ is not closing our eyes and wishing away all our problems.
That journey home from a far country is a metaphor and real at the same time and comes with a price called “taking responsibility for our actions”. This is specific and personal to everyone who has had the blessing of walking that lonely road home just as the prodigal did.
I may be miss interpreting something here but I think Jesus may have purposely left out this ‘return trip’ home. I speak philosophically of course but I believe Jesus understood how personal and intimate this part of a prodigal’s journey is and who better to tell the story but the protagonist himself.
If you are going through the long lonely road home stage of your own personal story you may be interested in my next post. The Prodigals’ Return Home.