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One of the widely known parables told by Jesus, recorded in the gospels, this story is often called the Parable of the Prodigal (or lost) Son. Yet the parable is actually about the two sons, both of whom are lost: looking for home.
Parables are stories that change those who read or hear them. It’s not a fable with a moral to teach, but rather a story like a nut you To crack. In unpacking the story, we ourselves are unpacked, “cracked,” invited to see the world – ourselves – each other – and God – anew.
The younger son asks for his part of the inheritance, thus communicating to his living father that he’s as good as dead to him. While he departs to find his way, he leaves home behind, as well as seemingly all of his good sense. He loses everything, even himself: as he resorts eating the food of the pigs he feeds. Remember that pigs were considered the most unhealthy, dirty and un-holy of animals by the Jews. Something happens to him where he realizes what home is, what being home means, so he gets up and returns to his father’s house: his home. The father is exuberant in his love, throwing off all cultural dignity, running to publicly embrace and welcome his wayward son. He has no shame – only love!
The older son is lost too. He’s stayed to serve his father, working on his estate; yet it’s just his father’s house: not the older son’s home. He’s ashamed of his father who loves so easily. He’s angry because he hasn’t felt at home, even though he’s been there all along.
The parable is told by Jesus to the religious and social elites criticizing him for spending time with the hoi polloi, the lost boys of society, the despicable who are unworthy of God’s love, of social recognition, of being welcomed into the community as their home.
Finding home isn’t as easy as looking for one on Zillow.com. It’s about more than a geographical place, or safe space. Home is where we are wholly who God made us to be, where we can holy enter into what God is doing in the world, where we are whole.
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
• What shimmers in your attention in this reading?
• Do you see yourself more in the elder of younger son?
• How do you feel lost these days, in search of your home?
• How do you hear the Spirit of God inviting you to act, speak, change, or become through this parable?