A personal reflection on the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15.11-32)
To and fro, oft I’ve turned away from the world, all things outward,
facing inward, asking myself: “Paul, are you a prodigal son?”
Each time swiftly, surely, though uneasily, I answer, “I am!”
For how many? So many times, have I spurned the will of good conscience,
requesting, demanding whate’er benefit I might receive now…
sooner than now,
and with little sense of the nonsense of my asking.
For I, acting…being entitled had little (no?) sense
of any want and need other than mine;
any want and need of any other than me.
And, so, how many, so many times have I been as the prodigal son:
this child of wanton ethics, requesting, demanding an inheritance
(whilst his father still lived, thus insinuating, “I wish you dead!”),
and equally wanton economics, his father’s loving largesse, soon squandering.
Then, one day (when, long ago, I do not recall), I came to this recognition:
This parable, this ingenious Jesus-story is a tale of three prodigals,
three figures of overabundant, extravagant wastefulness;
this realization allowing me,
that all three abide alway within me.
Aye, surely the younger son, for reasons I above confess.
Too, the father whose wastrel-love knew no limitation, no condition,
that forever unto death he’d watch, wait for the return of his wayward son;
and, watching, waiting, ready to meet him, welcoming him home,
ne’er a slave, but alway as an honored son.
How many? So many times have I begged, watched, waited for the prodigality
of my varied duplicities,
my effortless mendacities in the face of life’s exigencies and expediencies,
my frequent turns-of-back on all things holy
to come to my senses and journey home
to my sure, sweet welcome of me.
Too, the elder son and brother who, in the waste of his understanding
(aye, his misunderstanding) of the sacred-economics of familial relationships,
sought to earn his privileges, never believing,
never accepting that the fatted calf, a symbol of life’s largesse,
alway is gift, bestowed without regard to deserving or earning.
How many? So many times have I sought to merit another’s kindness
so, to prove (again and again) my essential worthiness;
thus, ever-failing to believe, to know that Love’s giving –
for this is what Love does, for this is Who Love is –
alway is unconditional, therefore, incalculable.
There dwell within me all three.
Believing, knowing this makes daily living with me harder, aye, hardest.
(Wouldn’t it be easier, easiest to live oblivious to constant, internal tensions? Yes!)
But such self-honesty (about the way things are, about the way I am) is truest;
and truest points the earnest way to living fullest, freest.
Illustration: The Return of the Prodigal Son, Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734). Note: Ricci depicts the prodigal son, his clothes tattered, bowing low, submissively kissing the hand of his weary-eyed-in-waiting father, whilst the elder brother, with the downward gaze of antipathy, looks on.