Today I begin a series of reflections on the three main characters in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32): the younger son, the father, and the older brother. I will offer three meditations (posts) on each character, to be concluded with a tenth post. I begin with the first reflection on the younger son:
1.1 The Younger Son: A Case of Mistaken Identity
"The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence," is a familiar saying. The younger son in Jesus' parable was sure that greener pastures lay elsewhere. This young man may not have been exactly sure where the excitement was, but he was certain that it was not on the family farm. We can almost imagine him thinking to himself, "Life is short and I shouldn't be wasting my one chance at a fulfilling life here tending to crops and animals.
His desire to "find himself" leads him to do something that would disgrace his family and bring shame to his father. He asks for his portion of the inheritance before his father's death, when he would lawfully and rightfully receive it. In so doing he is saying to his father, "As far as I am concerned, Dad, you are already as good as dead. Give me my money now, while I am still young enough to enjoy it."
His father would have been well within his rights to disinherit him, but he does not. In his grief, he gives him what he wants. There is another saying we all know: "Be careful what you ask for; you just might get it." The son gets what he has asked for.
In the 1960's we were told that we had to find ourselves, that we had to discover our identity, who we were. So flower children who lived on the east coast went to California, and those who lived on the west coast made their way to New York in order to "find themselves." Today we no longer use the language of "finding ourselves," but in essence we still think it is up to us to discover who we are in the idolatrous language of "choice" that we employ in everything from "choosing" our career, to "choosing" our mate, to "choosing" what is right and wrong for us. In essence we are still trying to find ourselves. It never occurs to us that we may already have our identity, that who we are may already have been decided.
Such a thing never occured to the younger son, or perhaps it had occurred to him, but he refused to accept it; he refused to accept the possibility that his identity lay in the very place he despised-- his home. So, off he goes with fortune in hand ready to find himself, ready to choose his own destiny. The world is his oyster and he is in search of the pearl of great price.
Will he find that great pearl, or will he simply cast the pearls of his inheritance-- signifying home, family, and the love of his father-- before swine?
To be continued...
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)