Saturday, December 14, 2013

On the Prodigal Son

Even though I said that the Bible is boring, there are perhaps a few decent stories.  For example, I think the story of the prodigal son is decent enough, though very simplistic.

The prodigal son is a parable told by Jesus.  A father has two sons.  One son leaves with his inheritance to live in sin.  But then he gets in trouble, and comes back to his father begging to be one of his servants.  His father throws a celebration for the return of his son.  The brother complains because he's been faithful all along, and doesn't get a celebration for it.

At least in Catholic tradition, it's an allegory for God's forgiveness.  One tension in the concept of forgiveness is that it hardly seems fair to people who did not need to be forgiven.  And yet, the father's motivation makes sense.  The brother is thinking of it in the long-term perspective (the prodigal son caused a lot of harm).  But the father is thinking of it in the short-term perspective (right now he gained a son).

Of course, if you want to know what's really unfair in the story, consider the servants.  The sons are privileged over the servants just because of who they were born to.  Who do the servants represent? Gentiles?  But never mind that part.

Even though the story is meant to explain something about God, a fictional entity, it's still useful as a meditation on forgiveness in general.  Why do we forgive?  How do we balance the values of fairness and forgiveness?  How do we avoid people taking advantage of forgiveness?

But I'd say that the God aspect of the story largely diminishes its value.  Since the father represents God, I guess the father basically has an unlimited amount of resources, so forgiveness is easy to him.  And nobody can fool God, so that's not really a concern.  Lastly, because the father is God, that means the father is just supposed to be right, and the brother is just wrong.  It would be more interesting to see them as making two valid points which are in dialogue with each other.

And since I'm nitpicking, the story also fails the Bechdel test. :P

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I always thought the father behaved the same as almost any father would, and explained God's concept of justice and fairness to be like that of a father, rather than like a government. May be that is because I heard the story at such a young age, and at least once or twice from my father, that it seems like a natural explanation of a father. At that age I took it to explain fathers more than God.