Thursday, May 8, 2014

Prodigal Son

When I was growing up, after my parents had divorced, my brother and I would have long drives with my father - to Alabama to visit family, to national parks, and just the go-betweens that parental separation makes necessary. My father would tell stories that were both historical and "biographical". As a man who had lived over 4000 years, he had seen the rise and fall of the Greek empire, traveled through ancient Macedonia, Babylon and Egypt, and taken up sophistry throughout the Roman empire. He would move from citystate to citystate...town to town...always just in time to witness an event of great importance to civilization...and then escape into the hills before a battle, or before villagers and members of his variously adopted communities became suspicious of his lack of aging.

When I went away to college, and would come to visit, he would greet me without fail: "...and the prodigal son returns!"

The parable of the prodigal son appears as a story in the New Testament (Gospel of Luke) of the Christian Bible. Essentially, it symbolizes redemption. The second-born son of a wealthy man requests his inheritance early, and promptly runs away with it to a faraway land where he spends it on luxurious living (prodigal means "wastefully or recklessly extravagant"). Soon enough, his new-found homeland succumbs to famine, and he is left in poverty, herding pigs. He then realizes the error of his ways and reflects on how for so long he benefited from the labor of others, with no appreciation or gratitude. He returns to his father and begs forgiveness, which his father not only accedes to, but proceeds to arrange a feast and clothes him in fine robes. A celebration ensues. The oldest son is not pleased, as he has been hard-working and loyal to his father - and he says as much.

The father basically replies by saying that while the younger son has done wrong, he has returned with wisdom from his misdoings, and that is something to honor (plus, presumably "back then", the first-born would inherit the estate upon the father's death).

We often live amongst waves...of inspiration, spiritual inclination and generosity of spirit... One can be wasteful with a lot and one can also be wasteful with a little. If you have ten dollars to your name and you spend it on comic books, that is wasteful. If you have a million dollars and buy a Lamborghini - actually if you ever buy a Lamborghini - you are wasteful (arguably because there are far smarter, and better investments that would do far more good). I think most of us have been wasteful at one time or another, and one can be wasteful with much more than just physical resources.

Where mistakes may be made with this balance, the lesson of the Prodigal Son can be a fable for learning and increasing goodwill. The parable of the prodigal son mirrors the journey many of us take - down side roads and back alleys - away from our 'intended path'. Its lesson could be in part that we should not regret the richness of the landscapes we have seen, or the education received from so-called 'mistakes', recklessness and wastefulness, or the wonder of going places (metaphorically) that while interesting, were not quite right to set up permanent residence in. It is a story of redemption.

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