As I prepare myself to venture into writing once again I have been spending a fair amount of time pondering the story of The Prodigal Son.
I have had a realization that as I have continued to be transformed over the years the meaning of this story has as well. What used to seem like a simple parable about a rebellious young man and what seemed like an all allowing Father has slowly begun to take a completely new meaning in my life. Today it is not so much what the story says that happened that captures my attention. Instead, as I have left those familiar points it is those parts that are unspoken and not directly mentioned, that have begun to take shape within my heart.
As one that understands the Jewish culture pretty well these days after living in Israel for over 10 years, I see more than ever why the people that originally heard this story wanted to literally kill Yeshua. You see for them God was no more than a transactional being. One that was distant and at best only interested in what people did or didn’t do. This literal perspective didn’t of course allow for any kind of spirituality to develop in a person’s life which would have enabled the original audience to capture what Yeshua was trying to share with them. Instead, as it is often with a literal approach to faith their focus could not go any further than the finger that was pointing to the truth which meant that they missed the truth altogether.
Today as I have been given the grace to move past the familiarity of the finger I can see that, unlike as I originally thought, in this story the son never left the home because of his disgust with the Father. Instead, I have begun to realize that this reason had more to do with the older brother and the way that the Father apparently accepted him and his approach to life. Now as any younger brother will know an older brother is always the one that one looks to follow and emulate. Whether it is what they wear, how they speak, what they look like, or what they subscribe to it is all seen as the way to do things, and the standard to live up to. On the surface, this is understandable however as with all of our choices in life they eventually begin to produce a type of persona and character and in time if we are not careful we end up becoming a copy and paste of those we look up to.
Clearly in the case of the older brother in this story, as we can see at the end of the parable, his approach to life did not take much consideration of what his heart desired as much as it did in making sure he did what was apparently right. One can only picture the times when the younger boy wanted to do things in a certain way but each time he was probably stopped and told to straighten up. I can imagine there was no room for mistakes and when these happened they were probably punished severely. Rules were probably what mattered the most as those best showed an apparent allegiance to the family household or perhaps himself. But like with everything that does not eventually lead to life it ended up creating an environment where the heart became sick of waiting for what it longed for – love and fulfillment.
Naturally, the younger son doesn’t understand the nature of his Father any more than the older brother does as he is limited by the experience that his older sibling has led him into. We see this when the time comes for the younger son to leave. Instead of asking for his Father’s council he instead lets him know, according to Jewish tradition, that as far as he is concerned he would really like to see him dead. In no uncertain terms, he announces his total disgust for the home experience he has been a part of. Never mind that much, if not all, of what he seems to perceive is more the product of his dysfunctional older brother than his loving and graceful Father. Now I could say much more about the Father here but we will have to leave that for another time.
As the son goes out and away from home we see the kind of life he turns towards. He does this with a ferocity that often accompanies those that have had their heart suppressed by a relation-less journey with the rules. This, in time as it happens with all of us, leads him to the end of himself and his apparent freedom. Naturally, as it always happens, when we find ourselves in an unfamiliar desert experience, we are invited, as he is, to consider a new perspective. Perhaps his home was not such a bad place after all and the one that owned it was not as bad as originally thought of. Maybe just maybe the problem was that he had never taken the time until now to see that love and grace are meant to facilitate life and not dominate it – much the same way his older brother probably dominated him and he then tried to emulate that with his own life.
Now we all know what happens from here and much more could be said however as I bring this blog to an end I want to invite you to consider a few things with me. Consider the fact that the son can only return home because he left it in the first place. Consider that this adventure was what allowed him to finally discover and understand that the presence of his Father went a lot further than an estate, a geographical place, or a family name. In fact, it is safe to say that the Father’s behavior was always consistent with the younger boy as any other kind of attitude would have probably not invited this process of reflection to take place that eventually led to a return being considered. Furthermore, it was because of someone else that was in authority and supposedly knew better than the younger boy that he not only misunderstood who his Father really was but at the same time missed the fact that instead of being just another brother in the house he was actually a son.
Perhaps many of us reading this today have been sensing deep within us that there must be more to this journey of life, yet we are very scared to divert or even leave what has been familiar to us for a very long time. We are worried about losing the endorsement of those we respect and have gone ahead of us. Never considering the fact that the best way to show respect and value for those that have gone before us is for us to continue the journey where they left off and go further. To understand that where they stopped is not a boundary but instead a door where we begin to embrace our own journey with God led by the faith within our hearts and not the discoveries they made.
It is only in this space beyond their frontiers that we can begin to encounter any real chance to discover God and experience him for ourselves instead of through the filter of their understanding. Nothing in this world will ever satisfy us like having our own experience with God no matter how different this might be than the one that has gone before us. The younger son saw and experienced the embrace of his Father in a way that the older brother never did, but not before leaving the shadow of the older sibling behind. He saw that all his Father had was and had always been his. He saw that this didn’t need to be earned through performance unlike his older brother thought and he probably tried for many years.
Plain and simply put the saving grace of the younger boy was that he left home. The older brothers undoing was that he never did.
Finally, consider with me today that often what you have called home is the place where you are the furthest away from your real home and the only way to see and discover this is for you to leave it behind. God, like the Father in the story, is happy to give us permission to go on our own journeys even if that means leaving what you think is your home. He does this as he knows that this is the only realistic way that can eventually lead us to discover the true nature of our Father and where our real home has always been.