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Saturday, 2 June 2012

a retelling of the prodigal son parable

Last year in 2011 I heard this story about a successful fast food businessman and his family.  

His wife had tragically died from cancer when the boys were teenagers.  Of course that had a big impact on them. The eldest got more serious and focused on taking over Dad’s business to support the family.  But for the youngest his reaction to his Mum’s death was to start to live life to the full – after all you only get one life don’t you?

Despite the tragedy of his wife’s death the businessman had continued to build up a fast food business with properties all over the place.  He had a great house in the middle of the countryside with super uninterrupted views all round and could afford a housekeeper and cook.  And of course his sons knew that Dad was rich.

So when he reached 21 the youngest son said to his Dad.  

“Look Dad, I love you and all that, but I don’t want to wait until you die to enjoy my share of your wealth.  Can you convert my share into cash now please?”  

Of course the dad was a bit shocked at this request.  But he loved his son and thought to himself “He’s grown up and he can only have his share once, plus I need to show him he can make his own decisions and I'll respect that”.  So he sold some properties and transferred the proceeds into his younger son's bank account. 

But to be fair the Father also allowed his eldest son to have enduring attorney over the remaining half of his business and changed his will so the eldest would get that half when he died.

Of course you can imagine the youngest son’s reaction when he logged onto his bank account via the internet and saw the balance.  To say he leapt for joy would be the under statement of the century.  After tweeting and posting on facebook about his new found wealth he booked a plane to Greece and it's best resorts and nightspots where almost anything goes.

With his money he could afford 5 star hotels and to get into the best night clubs.  And for a year or so he lived a riotous life of drinking, recreational soft drugs, fast cars, penthouse flats and glamorous girlfriends.  But without any income coming in it was inevitable he’d eventually spend all his money.  By early 2012 he had.

At the same time Greece was in the middle of the mother of all recessions and savage austerity measures.  So once his money had run out the younger son had no chance of getting a job.  Lets face it most young people in Greece couldn’t get a job.  

It got so desperate that he joined a squat to get a roof over his head.  In return for the shelter his job was to search through supermarket bins to find food for his fellow squatters.  Sometimes he got lucky.  Sometimes he got caught and got in trouble (for of course the supermarkets in Greece  - just like here – don’t like people rumaging through their bins).

After one particularly bad night (when the cops had held him for some time) he eventually got back to the squat very late and he looked long and hard at his situation.  And then it came to him in a flash of inspiration.  All he needed to do was to go back home and surely his father would at least make sure he was OK.  He even practised to himself the speech he’d make to his Dad.  It went something like this ….

“Look Dad, I know with the benefit of hindsight I did the wrong thing in asking for my share of your wealth and then blowing it all in Greece.  I was stupid and wrong.  I can’t make up for that mistake.  I ask one last favour.  Just get me a job serving in one of your fast food outlets during the night shift.”

The younger son proudly thought it was a speech to melt his father’s heart.  And it was certainly better than diving though supermarket rubbish.

So he hitched and blagged his way back to his fathers house.

On the last bit of the journey he couldn’t get a lift to his dad’s place so he decided to walk the remainder of the journey.  

But of course ever since he’d left  - everyday  - his father would look wistfully out of his study window, across the uninterrupted views, hoping against hope that his youngest son would return.  Why?  Because like any Father he loved his Son, missed him and wanted to see him again.  

Well you can guess the next bit can’t you?  When the Father saw his son far off walking towards the house his heart was filled with joy and love and, well, compassion.  So he called to his housekeeper and cook and told them to come with him and he hurried out of the house and across the open country to greet his youngest son.

Now the youngest son saw his dad striding across the fields to greet him.  So he had time to practice again his speech. So when his Dad got to him and hugged him and kissed him he was ready.  So he started to say his prepared speech – you remember it?

“Look Dad, I know with the benefit of hindsight I did the wrong thing in asking for my share of your wealth and then blowing it all in Greece.  I was stupid and wrong.  I can’t make up for that mistake.  I ask one last favour.  Just get me a job serving in one of your fast food outlets during the night shift.”

But to the younger son’s surprise his Dad interrupted his speech and turned to the housekeeper and cook and said “Get back to the house quickly, find my son’s best clothes and shoes and wrist watch so he can look good when he gets to my house.  Prepare a great meal for tonight with top notch food and invite all his friends for I want to celebrate.  I thought my son was dead to me and now I know he isn’t.  I thought he was lost in a world of self indulgence but now I find him at my doorstep.".

So the father and son walked back to the house as the housekeeper and cook went ahead to do as the businessman has asked.  And eventually the celebration meal started.

Now the elder son had been abroad looking at expansion opportunities for his Dad’s business. It had been a long trip and he was tired.  As his taxi from the airport took him home he kept trying on his mobile to contact his dad to talk him through what had happened.  But all he kept getting was the mobile’s answerphone message.  As the taxi drew into the drive of his Dad’s house he knew why he’d got no answer.  There were cars everywhere, the house was ablaze with light and the sound of music and laughter drifted out into the country air. 

The eldest son got out of the taxi, paid the fare (plus a tip of course) and rang the front door bell.  The Housekeeper answered, so he asked him “What on earth is going on?”.  The housekeeper replied “Your younger brother has returned and your Father has arranged a slap up dinner with all his friends invited to celebrate."

At that explanation the eldest son’s blood began to boil and he said to the housekeeper,  “Enough is enough!  There’s no way I’m coming in to celebrate the return of that irresponsible spoilt brat”.  And he stood there at the front door, fuming with anger as the sounds of the celebration dinner wafted out of the wide open front door, winding him up even more with each peel of laughter.

The housekeeper hurried off to find his Dad.  His father came to the front door and pleaded with him to calm down.  But the eldest son let his father have it with both barrels. 

“Look Dad, I’ve worked like a slave for you, late flights, late nights, no time for myself, doing what you wanted for the good of the business.  Yet when that good for nothing comes back, who took half of your business, you organise a celebration bigger and better than anything you’ve done for me and my friends.  How on earth is that fair?”

But his dad said to him, with tears of love in his eyes “Son, you are always with me, and you know that all that is mine is yours now and when I die. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead to us and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

That story is based on one told roughly 2 millennium ago to a bunch of largely uneducated and illiterate Palestinians.  And it was told to illustrate that God’s love for us has no limits with him always reaching out to us in reconciliation.

The question then, as now, is - in response to such overwhelming love  - will we reach out to the divine?

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