Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Prodigal Pursuit

A father had two sons. The youngest of these came to him and asked for his inheritance.
“What, would you wish me dead?” he asked him in return.

The youngest replied, “I merely wish to make my own way in this world. Give me my inheritance so that I can be my own man.”

Although it broke his heart the father divided his estate and gave his younger son his portion. The son immediately sold the land for cash and left with the proceeds.

The older brother returned at the end of the day to find their Father depressed. “What has been done to you?”

The Father relayed what had happened and the older brother was filled with bitter rage. “Father, give me my portion of the estate too and I will sell it to raise enough money to pursue my brother and punish him for his crime.”

“But that is not what I wish.”

“Father, If I do not do this then no-one will respect you,” stated the older brother.

“Not even you, my son? Will you not respect me either?” pleaded his father.

“Not even I.”

With a truly heavy heart the father granted the older brother their wish. And this is how it has been since then. One “good” brother searches the globe to punish his “bad” brother. He maintains the cold honour of his father.

Meanwhile the father mourns alone.


Note: If you aren't familiar with it this is an adaption (corruption?) of a parable commonly titled the Prodigal Son. (Luke15:11-32)

I toyed with the idea of changing the father to a mother. To do would make more sense because we would more easily forgive the disrespect of the older brother and be appalled at the disrespect of the younger brother in that situation. Try it and see. It’s easier in our culture to justify as protection, disrespect of a matriarchs wishes, particularly for male sons.

I've also always wondered where the mother is in the original story. I know its a parable but I still think its a legitimate question.

I didn’t change it in the end in order to keep the obvious connection with Luke15:11-32. The piece was after all inspired by this young persons youtube vid.  I think she beats up on herself too harshly but I really appreciated her sentiment.


  1. Hey Tony, Nice blog. I do see many Christians falling into the "Older Brother" / Pharisee role - seeking to condemn rather than restore.

    Your version of the story is sadder than the original though. In Jesus' version, at least the younger son realises his foolishness and returns to the father in repentance.

    I wonder why you changed this. Are you asking the question, "how does the father respond to the younger son if he does NOT return?". The older brother in your version wants to punish the younger brother for his sin. You put the words, “But that is not what I wish” into the mouth of the father. Is this what you think the original story implies?

    Definitely, we see the father leap to his feet when the younger son repents and through a party to celebrate his return, but what does that action say about his response if he never returns?

    In the words of the father in Jesus' version, "My son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." (Luke 15:24). So, if he did not return, I guess he would still be dead. He would still be lost.

    It is sad in both versions of the story that the older brother does not go out to find his younger brother and tell him of the good news of the party that awaits him if he returns to the father. That was Jesus' message. As he says in a few chapters after the Prodigal Son story, "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

    Like the girl in that YouTube video, I want to be known as someone who invites people to the party, rather than seeing it as my job to punish those that don't want to return to the father.

    The challenging question for me is whether, in my invitation, I include the consequences of not returning home and joining in the party? That seems a relevant issue to bring up as well. Sometimes, Jesus does this (Matthew 22:1-14, Matthew 25:31-46) and sometimes he doesn't.

    What in your mind Tony, is "outside the party"? What happens in your story to both the younger and the older sons, who both reject the father's will?

    Or is you image of the father (God) just an old man, sad and alone?

    1. Simon,
      Great questions. Firstly I want to be careful not to make my parable or Luke’s carry more than it’s weight. The father is relatively permissive and passive in the Prodigal Son (he lets his son go with the inheritance and he doesn’t chase after him). We could make a point out of that about God but I’m not sure that would be fair to do so (we might contradict the Parable of the Lost sheep if we did). Certainly it’s possible to get all Armenian (or Wesleyan) out of the fact that the Father doesn’t receive the son until after they return in repentance. And its possible to go somewhere else about the Fathers rush to receive the son before they even get a sorry out. Again it’s probably not fair to do so.

      Parables are stories to tell a point and we get into trouble when we make them whole theologies instead. The point of Luke’s story in my opinion is that we ought to be joyful over a brothers return (and a bit more than that as I say at The point of my parable is to stress more clearly than Luke’s that a) the older brother also leaves in effectively the same way and b) that their reason is an idea to protect God’s honour over maintaining family with God and their brother.

      Having said all that, I’ll contradict myself by saying that we can tell from Luke what happens if the young son doesn’t return. In that story the Father waits until they return. That’s their response. If we want to say they wouldn’t wait for ever (that there is a time limit to the Fathers patience) then we have to add that to the story. That’s a very dramatic insertion. We’d have to imagine that at some point the father gives up and even becomes angry in a complete character reversal. I don’t do that.

      As for how my story ends, I chose an open ending. I don’t mean to imply this is a final ending. I’ve been pondering lately how philosophically odd final endings are. Luke’s story does the same thing by the way. Although the younger son returns we are left wondering if the older brother will maintain their refusal to celebrate or what? Lukes’s story doesn’t show us how that reconciliation between brothers is supposed to occur or if it will. It is interesting to unpack what is meant by a statement like “what if the son never returns.” Is there such a thing as never? Is there a lifespan for hope? Or can we never say either son has never returned? Contd...

    2. Reading your comments also gives me more reason to wish I’d changed the father to a mother in my story. The reason is that I think you have made a subtle movement that is less noticeable with a father than it would be with a mum. You have said both son’s “reject the father's will”. I think it’s vitally important to the story that this is not about disobedience to the father’s wishes or commands. The younger son after all doesn’t steal their inheritance. Also in Lukes story the father doesn’t respond to the second son’s refusal to enter the party as an act of disobedience. It’s not God’s will that is transgressed here.

      What both sons do in Luke’s story and even clearer (I hope) in mine is to refuse to be family. The father just gives to his children. They give the younger son their inheritance, the younger son blows it and then when they return the father gives them more. This is stereotypical mother love (not that Dad’s can’t or all Mum’s do but we get tripped up on a need to be authorities more easily). The older son can’t handle this because they need the father to be an authority and respected for that – not just a giver. What the father wants of the older son is that they be like them towards their brother – to just give, to be family. I think this might have been clearer if I’d change the gender and I’d then be truer to Luke’s original.

      For me the tragedy of both Luke’s and my stories is that our human family is broken. I think that captures what moved me in the youtube clip. As that was my goal, along with being faithful to Luke’s parable, this couldn’t entirely be an expression of my own theology. However if I was to write a parable just about my own beliefs I could do a lot worse than this.