Thursday, April 19, 2012

More on the Prodigal Son

The Parable of the Lost Son, Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
 “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
The prodigal son

Here we have a marvelous parable!   It recounts the journey of a human soul,
and metaphorically tells the journey of every human soul.  Sometimes I’m
tempted to think that everything we need to know about the divine plan can
be gleaned from contemplating the details in this one story.

At the beginning of the story, the younger son is not in a fallen state,
but in the security of a home and in possession of a birthright to a rich
inheritance.    By his own volition, he wanders away, cutting his ties to
the father.   He then squanders this inheritance.   These choices bring
about suffering and hardship.   And this in turn causes him to realize how
precious a gift he had forfeited.   He appreciated not only how well off he
had been at home, but, more importantly, the generosity of his father.  He
also felt a strong sense of unworthiness to be called a son. He had
squandered his inheritance on things that he now realized were worthless
compared to what he had at home.   He now returns, not feeling a sense of
pride or entitlement, but hoping for a station of servitude.

This is the turning point for the younger son, when, according to the
parable, he gained life after having lost it.  Genuine reciprocation of his
father’s love was now possible.  Knowing this, the father celebrates.

The anger of the older son is no peripheral detail either, but is central to
the point of the story.    He sees a gross injustice in his father’s failure
to punish the younger son or to reward his own many years of loyalty.    The
parable implies that the older son, like the characters in the story of Job,
is missing something here about the nature of divine justice.  There is, of
course, a kind of simple justice in this story;  the younger son did not get
off scot free; he had to suffer hardship.    But what strikes me as
significant here is that the hardship was not necessitated by the father
feeling a need to “even the score.”   The justice in this story is
restorative rather than retributive.

Many lessons can drawn.   We are noble beings, created rich, but we bring
ourselves down to abasement.   We are given gifts, not because we’ve earned
them, but because of the Giver’s love.   Have I reciprocated that love or
have I squandered the gifts on what is worthless?  When I stray from my true
home, do I have the humility to bring myself to account?    Can I see
calamity as an opportunity for a new relationship?   Is my relationship with
the Giver authentic love, or based merely on hope for a reward or fear of

From Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh (#36)

Know thou that when the Son of Man yielded up His breath to God, the whole creation wept with a great weeping. By sacrificing Himself, however, a fresh capacity was infused into all created things. Its evidences, as witnessed in all the peoples of the earth, are now manifest before thee. The deepest
wisdom which the sages have uttered, the profoundest learning which any mind hath unfolded, the arts which the ablest hands have produced, the influence exerted by the most potent of rulers, are but manifestations of the quickening power released by His transcendent, His all-pervasive, and
resplendent Spirit.

We testify that when He came into the world, He shed the splendor of His glory upon all created things. Through Him the leper recovered from the leprosy of perversity and ignorance. Through Him, the unchaste and wayward were healed. Through His power, born of Almighty God, the eyes of the blind were opened, and the soul of the sinner sanctified.  He it is Who purified the world. Blessed is the man who, with a face beaming with light, hath turned towards Him.

Brian Aull, Bahai Chaplain