The prodigal son... what is going on in the minds?

This isn't a religious post

It is however an expansion on the parable recorded as one of Jesus teachings. 

The other day whilst driving around, this parable came to me as something to ponder in relation to my own journey... how does it resonate with you?

If you remember the story, a merchant with two sons. The younger decided he wanted to go off and make his fortune and so asked the father for 1/2 his inheritance and off he went. Things didn't go too well for the younger son... lots of drinking... women, wine and song. After a while the young lad was starving and scratching around for just enough food to eat and it dawned on him that the workers on his fathers estate faired better than he was doing. He decided to return to his father, and ask if he could work on the estate with the other 'hands'. He would at least not want for food and a place to stay.

The father was so overjoyed at his sons return (presumed dead) that he killed one of the calfs and organised a party to celebrate the return of the lost son. The eldest son was flabbergasted when he learned what had happened. He complained to his father, I have stayed here at your side and yet my brother has squandered your money. Now he returns you reward him by killing a calf and a huge celebration.

The fathers reply... son... you were always at my side under my care... your brother was lost and is now found.

The eldest son has a point doesn't he? Let's look at the 3 players

The Youngest 

What was going on in his head at the point he realised that things were getting pretty tough?

Remorse? Regret? Sadness? Despair maybe? Things must have gotten pretty tough to consider the return to his father's estate and admit that he had lost all that he had been given. His own assessment was that he was now not worthy to even be called 'son' and would be grateful if the father extended him an opportunity to just work on the estate and have food and shelter. 

If he had the time he might have reflected on the friends he had made. That they saw him as a source of fun and amusement whilst the money lasted. Not really friends at all, those that left as quickly as they had come once the prospect they might have to 'do something to help' showed up.

At his darkest hour at rock bottom there was a decision to be made. Almost certainly tough times ahead, or go where the love is. Regroup, start again. But that required a huge acceptance that his choices hadn't fulfilled his expectations. He must accept responsibility for where he was. Now he required some mercy from his father and a second chance. 

Strong was the lesson for the youngest son. Life is tough. He had lived a lot, but some huge lessons along the way. His emotions would be right now remorse and regret... his future now lay in the hands of the mercy, generosity, compassion and love of the father.

The Father

What of the father as his son left to make his fame and fortune? He supported him with his 1/2 share of the estate. He would have wished him well. He would have been sad to see him go. Happy that his son was taking life on. Finding his own way... creating his own life. Maybe going away from the family home it would provide the space for his youngest son to flourish and grow.

The son returns. Things have not gone well for him. Was the father angy? No... was the father worried about the money? No... Was the father grateful and happy to see his son again? Yes of course... the father had already lost his son... and yet now he turns up out of the blue... 1/2 an estate was the cost for the accelerated course in life lessons all delivered in a very short period of time.

On reflection the father would have thought. He was always a spontaneous, slightly reckless child who perhaps never truly appreciated his family (supposition). Now he has had some pretty powerful life lessons. Had he stayed he would not have learnt them. The father had to 'allow' his son to make his own decisions, make his own mistakes, learn from his own experience. But he knew that as with many fathers... he would be there for him always if he needed him. Life doesn't always turn out how we wish. However... the father expressed his gratitude at the sons return... and of course welcomed him back with open arms, gladness as a father would without judgement. This would have made the fathers week, month, year... an opportunity once more to share his inexhaustible love for his child

What of the eldest son?

Some sibling rivalry going on here. The eldest son did not follow in his younger brothers footsteps. Maybe being the eldest child it had been instilled in him that it would be his responsibility in time to take on the mantle of head of the family (supposition). Less reckless, more supportive... perhaps happy to follow the pathway laid out for him. 

So he would have been perhaps a little bit envious of his brother getting to go away with a suitcase of cash to enjoy world adventures. However there is a duty of care here back at the ranch. This is what I have been groomed to do.

Then the brother returns... not triumphant on a white stallion with a wagon load of gold. No... penniless... destitute having squandered it on the 'good life' funded by father and the family. Not an earned good life... a good life paid for by the hard toil of others. Actually he has totally let us all down... hopefully father will put him to work in the fields as a 'field hand' to repay the debt.

Meanwhile eldest son has carried on performing the role required of him and been there to support and assist the family whilst his younger brother has been enjoying himself. He feels envious perhaps he never went away? He feels jealousy that the younger brother who messed everything up is gaining such attention and love from the father? ... perhaps he feels that the fact his younger brother wasted all that money he should be punished?

Not seeing through this, father isn't furious (as eldest son would have been) actually he's delighted his son is back, kills the calf, and organises a celebration party to boot! ... this just isn't right... isn't fair... and he's going to tell his father he isn't happy about it.

Father explains he is overjoyed... his son was lost now he is found... huge rift in the family coming up..

What of you the reader of this blog?

What do you think about this story and the different states of minds of the three main participants. Which experience do you empathise with the most? Have you gone home destitute... have you suddenly been asked to help an old close friend or family member who has suffered at life's door? ... or do you see the unfairness of this situation and side with the eldest son?

What are the emotions being touched on here?

Let's focus now on just a few of the emotions in each case...

Youngest son: Remorse, Regret, Humility, Guilt
Father: Mercy, Compassion, Happiness, Generosity, Love
Eldest son: Anger, Envy, Jealousy, Judging

We all have the opportunity to decide how we choose to think

There of course is no right or wrong in the parable. Its purpose is to make us think. Which one we empathised with will tell us which emotions we are feeding. I think a parable of its time... it is one which has so much relevance in all our daily lives.... 


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