Saturday, February 9, 2013

Pig Man Coming Back

(I wrote a long email with friends about the Prodigal Son. It was so long that I'm repeating it here.)

Why are we talking like the prodigal son got shafted? He never got shafted; didn't his father tell him "Son, thou art ever with me and all that I have is thine"? This is huge because:
(1) "Son"--the Prodigal wanted to be a servant and was flummoxed that he got to be a son. Here the father reaffirms to the Other Brother that he is a Son; he's still got that honored role
(2) "thou art ever with me" There's a talk by Eld Eyring (I can't find it online, but it's in his "to draw closer to God" collection of discourses) where he talked about his mission companion. He had a companion who was, like, 70 years old, had been inactive for something like 50 of those. Little Eld Eyring was teaching a lesson on repentance and said something like, "you can repent and be just as good--isn't my companion just as good now that he's repented?" Anyway, later his companion said, "don't use me as an example. Yes, I know my soul is clean, but I lost a lot. I lost raising children in the church. I lost serving in many callings. I lost much revelation and comfort. So now I know I'm in good standing with God, but I'm not just as good as if I hadn't ever been inactive."
Same thing here, I think. The Prodigal had to endure many of the natural consequences of his sin, becoming destitute, lonely and hungry. We know he was homeless because he had to join himself as a lowest servant to have a chance at survival. We know he was friendless because "no man gave him." We know he was starving because he "would have" eaten husks, but even that he couldn't do (possibly because his master cared more for the pigs that for him). While the Father gives him a fatted calf and a party, he can't take away the years spent homeless, starving and lonely.

While I think the Other Brother is maybe exaggerating about never having had a kid with his friends, I'm pretty certain that his father (remember, who's so generous that he would give "bread enough and to spare" to his servants) never let the Other Brother starve. I'm pretty sure he enjoyed the bounty of the fruitful fields he was working, the safety of the house where the party was happening, and the constant support and company of the relations* and servants playing music and dancing inside. Most importantly, he enjoys the company of the Father being "ever with" him.
(3) "all that I have is thine" This is where the parable meaning and literal meaning part ways a little: in earthly inheritance, if you spent it, it's gone, and there's a set amount to go around; in heavenly economy, both sons can inherit "all that [the Father] hath." The Other Brother doesn't have to grudge his brother a fatted calf, because all the calves are his. And all the cows. And all the steers. And all the goats, pigs, parakeets, outhouses, tambourines, corkscrews, spare lumber, and abacuses (abaci?). He will become like his father, because he will be the owner of this great estate; the desire is that he will also become like his father because he will be generous and kind towards those who have erred and repented.

Even though I'm arguing that the parable promises more to the Other Brother than we think, I agree that Jon is absolutely right that this parable is really kicking the hypocrits to the curb, especially because we read that these parables about lost things all come after the Pharisees  criticize Christ for eating with alleged sinners. These are the ultimate tithes of mint and ignoring weightier matters inspirations. There's definitely a warning in how the story ends suddenly, as if Christ were saying, "Okay, here's what the Father says to the Other Brother--what are you guys going to say back to Him?"

*I'm betting there are plenty of sisters, cousins and in-laws implied in this story. Maybe the Other Brother even has a wife, or at least reputable options in the neighborhood.

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