As a young person listening to that story, it seemed to me that the prodigal had the best of two worlds. He got his inheritance early and was able to spend it on all the worldly pleasures he could find, and then when he had run out of money, he got to come home to a new endowment. How much better could it get?I never identified with the good brother. Perhaps he had the good life, but it was the dull life of doing day after day the same old thing.
Of course, those who have actually gone into their own “far country” know that it is not all fun and games. The fun found more often than not proves to be a false fun. To prove to ourselves and others that we are having fun, we put on false faces and shout with too much bravado about our grand lives. We rush from one thing to the next trying to fill our emptiness, only to discover that the emptiness grows. If we’re fortunate enough to come to our senses and to come home, we discover in the midst of the welcome-home party, that we are scarred. The father’s forgiveness is a welcome relief. To know one is restored in spite of his unworthiness is a great joy and a great mercy, but the scars remain.It is not so grand out in the far country.
Of course the good sons and daughters might well tell us that it is not so good at home either. Actually, the truly good sons and daughters will tell us that life is grand at home. The problem with most “good” sons and daughters is that they are good in order to get what they want or “deserve.” They’re playing the same game as the sibling who ran away.What is missing for the good and the bad sons and daughters is not material things and/or new experiences. What is missing is relationship. We run away from the life for which we were created or we begrudgingly live it because we’ve failed to understand and rejoice in the relationship with the Father.
When we are in relationship with the Father, there is no far country . . . there are no tasks begrudgingly done. There is life.As my friend and teacher, Dr. Glenn Hinson, recently reminded me, the parable really isn’t about the prodigal son or the “good” son who stayed home. It is about the loving Father who never gives up on us, who is forever wooing us into a relationship with Him, and who is forever ready to welcome us home.
When we read parables, we must read more than the story. We must read the story in the story. In this parable, the story in the story is that of the loving Father whoever forever claims and loves His children.