Lectionary resources for worship, faith formation, and service
Strip away everything you’ve ever learned about the church and hold onto the parables. Not an original idea but fairly sensible. We’d make a better job of the church if we did. Stick with the stories that are all about relationship (and every parable is) and fold away everything else. Sorted.
The “Prodigal Son” is one of big parables that we have managed to crawl out of so often however without ever being changed. It’s time that came to a stop.
It’s not called the prodigal son, or lost son of any other son. Jesus starts the story with “a man had two sons.” So it’s really about the father. This father is not a good father. Clearly he is a bit soft and doesn’t care for the traditions of honour in the community because his younger son asks for his inheritance. Good grief, who does this younger son think he is? Does he not know that the inheritance goes to the older son when the father dies? The father breaks all honour codes and gives him a share. What’s going on here? Not only that, he gives the older son his share, too. Before he’s dead.
One son then sells his share (a father had the right to live off the land until he died even if the sons owned it. He can’t even do that now). This is anathema. He goes off squanders that inheritance in foreign places – surely the straw to break the camel’s back (though he’s probably sold the camel!) and decides to come back. The father, when he sees the son, runs towards him. This is getting ridiculous: the old man running! No way! No honour in that.
Then he gives him a hug, a ring, a cloak, and a party.
This is just the most incredible reaction of a father. It is everything the culture disagreed with. Everything it’s honour system tried to stop. This reaction is shocking to anyone who hears it. Where is the honour in any of this?
There are two groups of people listening to this parable the Bible tells us: one group are the tax collectors and sinners who might identify with the younger brother; the other group is the pharisees and scribes who might identify with the older brother.
See what is happening here? Jesus has stripped away all the honour system that keeps everyone in their place and invites the prodigals, the tax collectors and sinners to their own party. What’s left unsaid is if the pharisees and scribes choose to join in.
Are we a church that is faithful enough to the parables to end up at the party which God, who has somehow broken all our rules and rituals and practises that keep the faith “pure,” chooses to throw with those who seem to stand against all our hard work having chosen a different route to God?