Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Lost Son

The key to this story is a comparison of the younger and the older son. We often focus on the prodigal, who returns home after living what is quite frankly a hedonistic lifestyle but is nevertheless forgiven and accepted back by the loving and grieving father. The lost is found. Rejoicing can begin.

But what about the older son? His words are significant:

‘All these years I've slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ 

The irony is that he sees himself as a servant or slave (doulos in Greek), not as a son. By treating himself as a slave, he shuts himself off from the celebration that he should have enjoyed. The land and animals are still his to inherit, for the younger son has squandered his share of the inheritance, so he should be acting as son and heir. Instead he forfeits is birthright out of meanness of heart as a result of seeing the father's generosity to his brother.

In contrast, these were the planned words of the younger son on his return, 'Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.’ Instead, perhaps seeing his father's act of compassion in running to him and hugging him, or perhaps because he is cut short by the father's response, says the shorter version, 'Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.' This lacks the key words 'take me on as a hired servant'. Actually the word for hired servant is day labourer. If you go to a certain area of some Central Asian cities today you will still see men standing with spades waiting to be hired at a daily rate. They are mostly poorly educated or even illiterate - in Afghanistan only 25% of the labour force can read - and are willing to do any hard work for a low daily rate. The younger son had been willing to be taken on not as a permanent servant but as one of these daily-paid workers. But his father's love for him changes everything. He simply accepts it as it is and enjoys the celebration that his father has long planned.

The moral of the story: let's rejoice with the Father and all of heaven that what had been lost is now found when people respond to God's love.