Most people go through a rebellious stage at some point. For many it is in their teenage years, or when they go away to college. It usually represents their fight for independence, or their search for their own identity. The length of the rebellious period varies according to the person. I once had a grade eight student whose rebellious period lasted two weeks. She had been one of my more mature students, until she decided to experiment with a new personality. She became rude, uncooperative and insulting. I was surprised, saddened and annoyed. Thankfully at the end of those two weeks, she was back to her sweet, good-natured self, and I was glad for her return.
Luke 15:11-32 tells the story of a much more involved rebellion. It is the parable of the prodigal son. Many translations call this the story of the lost son, or the wayward son, which would also be an accurate representation of the person in question, but a more accurate synonym for the word prodigal would be wasteful. Oxford American Dictionaries defines prodigal as “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant”.
The prodigal son, the younger of two, boldly asks his father for his inheritance, and then goes as far away as he can get from family responsibility and accountability. He wants to make his own decisions and live his life his way, but his short-sighted choices and some unforeseen circumstances produce a desperate situation. He finds himself with nothing left when there is a famine in the land. He stoops about as low as a Jewish boy can go when he starts tending pigs for a foreigner. He realizes that he could have tended flocks and herds for his father and been treated much better. Oh how the perspective of experience can change one’s view of things! The independence he had asked for so that he didn’t have to live under his father’s authority he was now more than willing to give up so that he could live under his father’s blessings. For even if he were only a servant in his father’s household, he would be much better off than facing starvation to the point of wanting the pigs’ food and not even being able to have that. Again he had a choice to make. This time he chose humility, and went back to his father. Thankfully for him, his father was glad of his return and welcomed him back not as a servant, but as a son.
You will have noticed that this parable starts with Jesus saying that “A man had two sons.” (Luke 15:11) Next week, I will look at the other son, the older brother. The following week, I will examine the father’s reaction to them both.