We left our wandering son in a faraway country, spending his money and having an awfully good time.
But, the money does run out…he spent “everything.” This necessarily would not have been a problem, if he had been seeking gainful employment, or had found a job already. But that would have meant looking ahead, and our younger brother was about the NOW. Thinking about the future? Nah--that's for kill-joys like my father and older brother.
Now, outside forces invade his world—forces he has no control over. Famine hits the land. When people are starving, normal activities screech to a halt and the lights go out. People focus on themselves, understandably so, for worrying about the next meal is overwhelming. Where are all of his friends now? It’s every man for himself, and our younger son goes looking for SOMETHING. His resources could have been a hedge against such calamity, but it hits him hard now that he has nothing.
He goes to a “citizen of that country” and asks for a job—any job. (Desperation deflates arrogance and self-sufficiency rather quickly!) This man is probably not a fellow Jew—this man is raising pigs, a taboo animal and forbidden food source for the Jews. The younger son shows up at this man's door, with his Jewish dress and demeanor and probably looks as out of place as an astronaut at a fashion show. The man has some pity for this young man, and looks out over his farm. "You want a job? OK, you can go feed the pigs."
Did our younger son wince at the suggestion? Unclean is as unclean does, and here he is, going into a kosher nightmare. Did the man even know of the Jewish aversion to pigs? Did he even care? Was he looking into the eyes of the young man and thinking, "This kid is desperate, and will do any job I send him to!" Was the man playing with him...or was the man genuinely sympathetic to this kid on his doorstep?
How the mighty have fallen. Out to the pigpen he goes.
He’s hungry as all get-out. It’s not like he can nip into McDonald’s for a value menu item. He sees the pods the pigs are munching, and they start looking awfully inviting. Note: “no one gave him anything.” Interesting—this young man, whose money jingled in the pockets of prostitutes and innkeepers all over town, this young who was well known, is now refused all help. No food, no offers of assistance, no bed to sleep on.
Sometimes, when we are deep in our sin, God allows pain to come in and pinch us into reality: Our pride has indeed led us to a fall, and in order for us to get up and out of our circumstances, the Lord closes all the doors, except one...We need to start walking home to where He awaits.
My favorite line in the whole parable is “When he came to his senses.” Wow—he has an “A-ha!” moment! Listen to what he said, in Jesus' words: “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.”
Suddenly, he has a plan: Even his father’s servants are living better than him—they eat well, with enough food to spare (code word for "I don’t even have what a servant has—I am lower than the lowest member of my society!") Our younger son has awakened to REALITY—he has walked out from behind the false front of sin and sees it’s just an empty movie-lot. His foray into arrogant independence has left him with nothing.
He is not only starving, but he is spiritually hungry as well.
He rehearses his speech to his father, emphasizing his sin and how it is an affront to heaven and to his father. Nail on the head, son: sin isn’t just going you own way and getting run over—you have disappointed heaven with your behavior and have estranged yourself from the ones who love you the most.
The younger son has the honesty to admit that somehow he lost his title of “son”—What kind of son have I been? My father used to love to talk to me, even if I never responded, and at night, the empty place at the table reminds him of my absence. He doesn’t even know if I am alive. Has he heard about the famine? Does he picture me lying in a gutter, with a sunken face, begging for food? Does he wake up at night, having dreamt that I was robbed on the road, my money bag torn from my belt, and my beaten-up body thrown into a ditch?
He wonders...What must the Lord think of me? I have shamed the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac. I, a Jew, am handling the food of pigs, and am bringing mockery to my faith because of my actions. I need to go home. I must go home.
Let's stop for a moment. He could have just sat there, feeling sorry for himself, seeing himself as a victim of circumstance. He could have blamed his father for working him too hard, thus driving him away. No. He places the blame squarely on his own shoulders. Perhaps life is not all that good on our farm, but we must take responsibility for our failures and use them as a catalyst for change. If we see ourselves as a victim, we will wallow in the mire of self-pity and not crawl out. We will soon so identify with our victim-hood that what happened to us will become who we are.
This younger son remembers who his is: the son of a father who loves him, and who wants the best for him. In fact, the father wants better for the son than the son wants for himself.
Jesus says the son “got up”—where was he? Was he lying in a barn on some hay? Was he sitting near the pigs, appalled at their table manners but envying their full bellies?
But...He did GET UP. He “went to his father.” He went back to his source—back to what the “distant country” had failed to give him—love and a sense of who he is.
Next time: Happy Reunion!? Kinda Depends on Who You Talk To!
For more posts in my parable series, click here.