Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Most people tend either to relish a regular rhythm in daily life or they treasure spontaneity which can lead towards new ways of daily life. Regardless of how we are wired, most of us spend our days somewhere between these two extremes, and even the most routine-oriented person occasionally finds themselves feeling stuck in a sense of monotony. What about your daily schedule provides you with energy? What can lead you to a sense of monotonous plodding?
In this parable, Jesus tells of a man with two sons. The two sons would have been expected to follow their filial obligation by working for their father, knowing that he would provide them room and board as he taught them his trade. This lifestyle would provide a routine manner in which things occurred and were done.
During Jesus’ lifetime, the oldest male child was expected to inherit at least twice as much as the other male children, and the vast majority of the inheritance would have consisted of property rather than money. This property was typically land that had been in the family for generations, which the heir would have been expected to keep for their own children.
While it was not uncommon for a father to divide property between children, a son asking to receive his inheritance prior to his father’s death would have been a great insult to his father. Furthermore, for a son to then sell off his inheritance for money would have added injury to insult.
The son then went and spent all of his new found wealth until he found himself forced to work as a swineherd amidst a severe famine plaguing the land. While working there, he had the realization that he would be in a much better situation returning to his father, begging for forgiveness, and working as a hired hand.
Upon his son’s return, the father ordered the family servants to prepare a feast with the returning son as the guest of honor. This response would have been completely out of character with the culture of Jesus’ time, where the actions of the son would have justified disinheritance at a minimum.
Once the celebration began, the eldest son approaches his father with a great deal of disgust toward his father’s actions. At various times in our lives, most of us can identify closely with each of these three characters, and our outlooks towards our family members can reflect this identification.
Merciful God, you have called us from the monotony of our lives to the joyous celebration of redemption through your grace. We thank you that, though we do not always live as the people that you call us to be, you nevertheless seek us out and celebrate our redemption every day. Help us to see others with the same eyes that you see them and to live with the knowledge of your love for us and each other. Form a spirit of joy and celebration in our hearts and minds through your presence. In Christ’s name we pray; amen.