Nearly everybody knows what the prodigal son did (Lk 15:11-32). He brazenly asked his father for his inheritance long before it was due. Then he went a great distance from home in search of “real freedom.” In that far-off place he attracted a following of ne’er-do-wells and together they caroused until his resources were spent.
Then came abandonment by his fair-weather “friends,” degrading work as a pig-tender, grinding hunger, disillusionment and desperation, and finally his forlorn trek back home — smelly and in rags — to throw himself on his father’s mercy.
Here’s my question: Is there today a more nuanced and thus better explanation for the self-destructive course the son took?
For example, there is no mother in the story. Might it be that the lad had been deprived of maternal warmth in his developing years that had left him insecure and therefore vulnerable to his own impulsive conduct?
And there was his heartless older brother who objected bitterly to his father’s tenderness toward the younger son. Should the prodigal’s bad judgment be viewed as less serious because of destructive sibling rivalry that had never been resolved? Maybe this was a factor in his hasty leave-taking!
Then what about the father? Had this father played favorites or otherwise failed his task in raising this younger son — with damaging results?
Should we say, for example, that the son isn’t responsible because his father should have put his foot down during the son’s early adolescence and notified him sternly that what he needed to do was to develop a good work ethic right there on the farm?
Parental mistakes? If we could blame adolescent rebellion on less-than-perfect parenting, all of our children would be delinquents. That’s because all parents make mistakes.
We can do things in our relating to our children, sometimes innocently, that inadvertently make it easier for them to turn to wasteful living. But is that the crucial issue in the prodigal’s case? And why did Jesus tell the story the way he did, offering no excuses for this boy’s behavior?
Next week, I’ll offer an opinion.