Yesterday morning I was making breakfast, cleaning the kitchen, and listening to the Rolling Stones’ Beggar’s Banquet, one of my favorite of their albums (includes “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Street Fightin Man,” etc.). This record has a great rendition of the story of the prodigal son, a biblical parable with a message that I have never appreciated, until yesterday.

I have always felt that there should be consequences for the younger son having left, blown all his money, and then comes back to be received into the fold of his family. And what about the elder son who remained there, steadfast and dedicated, his inheritance intact? What message does he receive, other than, ‘You might as well go off and blow your wad, too, because it doesn’t really matter’? Well, OK, so this really isn’t the message.

And yesterday it seems as though I had a eureka moment, long after most of you, I suppose. So, life isn’t fair, right? We all know that; we’ve seen it every day in the news where there are injustices and sometimes no consequences. But for a reader of the Bible, does one wish that God’s love be merely fair with consequences for bad decisions? I would think not. My guess is that we want it both ways: we want justice here on earth and for God’s love to be unconditional. What is wrong with that? But the story is not trying to reflect how it is here on earth, and only how God’s love is — unreasonable, irrational, and that is the beauty of it.

So what are the benefits of remaining on the farm? Or, in another way, what are the benefits of leading a life within the fold of God’s love? I would guess there are many different answers to this question, depending on whom you ask.

I also have to think, ‘What if the younger son went off, blew all his money, and became Buddhist?’ Would he still be “dead” to his father?


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9Reflections

Reflections

I've wondered about that same parable for much of my life. Now that my own children are grown, I have some understanding. If one of my two children were lost, dead to me in the sense of being unreachable, as actually happened with my daughter's drug use, my heart would break for sure. It did. However, against all imaginable odds, in the face of suicide attempts, psych wards, and a slew of rehab centers, my daughter is now returned to me, clean and sober for close to a year.

Do I resent my daughter's time away from me? Do I feel she owes me something for my broken heart? Do I feel she has earned less love, care and compassion from me than my son, who never chose that path? No to all three. I could not withhold my love from someone who needs it so much. I love them both equally, and they know it.

In our humaness, fraught with all manner of frailness and inadequacy, it's easy to lose sight of love. We are subject to intense emotions. We must deal with limited resources and abilities. We are trapped within our human perspective. How closely might we come to understanding the Love of a God? For me, I would do anything to reach my children, and teach them to love. And when a lost one takes those first faltering steps of return to self respect and compassion, I open my arms and give every ounce of support I am capable of, no matter how long it takes. These are my children. I do not abandon them. I do not place one over the other. Thank you for listening.

Beautiful thoughts, Richard, thank you for sharing them. As I read them, it struck me that perhaps the inherent "flaws" of our humanity actually allow us to love, to look beyond justice and injustice, to realize what is important. It is our humanity that allows us to see the weaknesses in others, as we have seen them, in one form or another, in ourselves.

Yes exactly, Mitch, thank you. And as our "flaws" teach us to love, and see ourselves in others, we can reach out and be the help to others that we once received. It can be quite difficult while in process, but also very beautiful.

Mitch...I have often wondered at the conversation (or lack thereof) between the two brothers... or the conversation from the unmentioned mother. (Alison Funk writes a beautiful poem called 'The Prodigal's mother'). Reading what you wrote got me thinking about how the story of the Good Father in some ways seems to highlight what I am thinking may have been a particular emphasis of Jesus - that people who love each other are hurt when they engage in comparisons. Martha & Mary, Peter & the beloved disciple, the disciples asking who is the greatest - and then in this parable.There seems to be something of a repeated theme I think. People seem to be invited to do what they do because of love, not out of resentment, or because it'll make them 'greater'.

I like how you highlight the limits of the story of Lk 15 Mitch - that it isn't trying to 'solve' our valid injustices....rather it is pointing to a more transcendent reality that we are glimpsing, but not fully. It is relevant both in everyday circumstances, and also in the bigger events of our communities.

As always - cheers. And I'm glad you liked Lasairfhíona.
Pádraig, Belfast.

It seems likely to me that the prodigal son departed on a "hero's" journey, a la Joseph Campbell.
For some folks, in order to achieve spiritual growth, you must be ready to leave behind all you have become accustomed to- the family, cultural, and social props that both support you and confine you.
This enables one to see clearly- and to become able to see in a new way.
(In mathematics, this process is called "deconvolution").
Then, upon return, you are welcomed happily for you bear a huge gift: the gift of vision, the gift of new-ness.
It is through the incremental development of novelty that the world unfolds, an ever-increasing gift to (and from) the Divine.
So to answer your question- if the son became a Buddhist and brought back that spiritual treasure, he would be welcomed all the more...and the bible might have morphed into a sutra...

Dear Mitch,
I think the lesson for the son who stayed at home was that although he was in his "father's" company every day, ate meals with him, had opportunity to talk and share intimate feelings, shared in all the physical amenities available, he did not find value in it. Sadly he missed the very essence of his "father". If he had really known his father (God) he too would have lifted his robe and run to throw his arms around his brother.

Jesus was an apocalyptic. He saw the coming of a new world brought by God to earth through the son of man (who may or may not have been him). His parables are told in the setting of this apocalyptic vision for the near future ("There are those who are here today who will not taste death before these things will come to pass"). In that context, the son who stayed on the farm was really the victim of his own earthly expectations. The new world order that God will bring when he sends the son of man to rule the earth will not be that of human concerns, but of those of God's love. A God of love will love his sons equally, however prodigal one might be, and in fact rejoices whenever one returns, as any father would. It's not about the fortune, it's about love of his son. The son who stays has that love all the while as well, he just sees the fortune as its manifestation, instead of the love itself as his priviledge. His expectations were earthly, but God's love is not.

Only love exists, everything else is an illusion. To look as bad decisions or sin as merely missing the mark, in other words doing a retake, is the beginning of embracing unconditional love. Loving others unconditionally begins with loving all parts of ourselves without judgment or need to punish ourselves. As we begin to unveil the love we are, we will awaken to the shift in perception that there is no need to forgive anyone just the letting go of judgment . We are all one and only love exists, everything else is an illusion created by the ego.

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