What I’m Thinking: No End to the Story

It’s a curious thing about Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son: He stopped before he got to the end. It’s up to us to decide what happens next.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the fifteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32), that portion of it which contains one of the best known of Jesus’ best known stories. We know it as the Story of the Prodigal Son.

Just to fill in a little bit of the story. A man had two sons. The younger one decided he wanted to see the world, so he asked his father for his inheritance – in advance. But his investments didn’t go well and some of them, I suspect, were just straight gambling. He ended up as a swineherd far from home. He decided that he would return and ask his father to take him in as a hired hand, because then he’d be doing better than he was at the moment.

When the father saw him, he welcomed him. He gave him fresh clothes, put a ring on his finger, slaughtered the fatted calf, set it to cooking, and called everyone in to rejoice.

The older brother was not pleased. He would not come. The father went out and said to him, “We must celebrate, for your brother was lost and is found. He was dead and is alive again.”

The curious thing is the prompt to which Jesus responded with this parable (and indeed, with a series of stories), when some of the righteous people were complaining that Jesus would meet with sinners. He would even eat with them.

You see, the story is not so much about the prodigal, whose life history we find more fascinating because it is, after all, that classic arc of descent and then redemption. The story is about that last conversation between the father and the elder son. Well, the elder son does not want to – ah, ha! – sit and eat with his sinning younger brother.

Jesus left the story unfinished. It closed with the father’s words. We do not know what the elder son chose to do.

Jesus left it unfinished because you and I need to finish it for ourselves. When we find ourselves in the place of that elder, the one who had done everything right, the one who sees a prodigal being welcomed home and resents that person for it: how do we finish the story?

Do we put our arms around a parent’s shoulders, and let them lead us back into the house, and perhaps with something of an ache in our hearts, do we celebrate the return of the one who was lost and is now found, the one we thought dead but is alive?

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: , | Posted on March 21, 2022

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