A Hidden Figure In ‘The Prodigal Son’

The parable of the prodigal son would certainly earn a prime spot on Jesus’ Greatest Parable Hits CD.
It is hard to find anything in the Bible—Old Testament or New Testament—that more richly illustrates how much God loves us. No matter what we do, God’s love is always waiting for us with open arms. We can squander all the blessings that God has given us. We can live as dissolutely as humanly possible. We can find ourselves foraging for sustenance among the earth’s pig-styes. But, no matter what, God’s love is still there, waiting, like the father of the prodigal son.
All we need to do is come back home to that love.
But in contemplating this story, there is an added layer of understanding if we think about the fourth character. She is mentioned nowhere but surely must have played a compelling role in what happened when the prodigal son came home.
I refer to the wife, the mother of the prodigal son.
At its core, this famous parable is about the transformational power of love, both human and divine—because the two are inseparable. I don’t believe the father could have shown such unconditional love to his younger son without knowing the power of such love firsthand in his own life.
So, let’s look at the lesson from a slightly different point of view than the most commonly understood meaning—which, itself, is powerful enough for us all—that the father is God and the younger son is so many of us in the human race. But, I believe Jesus also wants us to understand the power of our own love.
In literal terms, this is a real, earthly family. Looking at the parable from a literal standpoint, the characters are not symbols or metaphors. When we regard the parable this way, the transformational power of both God’s love and human love resonates like a church bell in the night.
For the father to respond to his returning son so immediately and fully with such unconditional love must mean that he, too, has been, and is, unconditionally loved. Love like that must come from the heart of one who has known such love.
The unnamed and unmentioned wife—the mother of his children—must have been the source of that unconditional love in his own life. After all, the father doesn’t consult with his wife. He doesn’t say, ‘Honey, guess who’s come home. Is it okay if we kill the fatted calf?” Fatted calves don’t grow on trees but the father knew he didn’t need to ask. He knew the answer. He married the answer.
I believe the father lived with unconditional love on a daily basis and that is why there was such unconditional love when the couple’s younger son returned. Furthermore, it is no stretch of the imagination to believe that the father is able to show such understanding toward the younger son because he had his own difficult challenges growing up in the world—until he found the unconditional love of the woman who would become his wife.
Unconditional human love really can be transformational. It can literally change our lives. That is because unconditional human love connects us to the unconditional love of God in some beautifully mysterious and miraculous way. As Jesus taught the Beloved Disciple, who shares the lesson with us in I John, the 12th verse of the fourth chapter: “If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
Wow! A really BIG WOW!!
And that is the love we see demonstrated in the story of the prodigal son.
“This brother of yours was dead,” the father explains to his oldest son, “and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
So, let us never, ever in a million years underestimate the power of our own love. It is, in its own way, divine and it can be, most definitely, transformational in the lives of those around us. We only have to look at ourselves and think about our own life’s journey to understand that holy truth.

Springing Ahead With Our Hearts

“For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

—John 3:20-21

One of my favorite childhood memories with my father is being five and six-years-old, staying up late on Saturday nights to watch “Shock Theater.” Just the two of us.
A Richmond television station would broadcast the classic horror films: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf Man and all the rest. Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Bela Lugosi became as familiar to me as Mickey Mantle.
And, gosh, those actors were really scary in those movies.
But was I afraid?
No, because I felt so safe sitting close to my father on the sofa in front of the television, darkness all around, the only light coming from the screen of the black and white television as midnight approached. I knew nothing bad could happen to me as long as he was there.
Most of the scary scenes in those movies were set in darkness. Dracula came at night to drink his victims’ blood. Chaney’s character was transformed by the full moon into the ravening Wolf Man. When darkness came, in those films, evil was not far behind.
The trick, of course, was getting up enough courage to go to bed after the movie was over and I had told my father good night. I would hold my little stuffed dog Petesy tightly in my arms and say my prayers as hard as I could.
I never fell asleep right away, however, on those Saturday nights.
Even though I knew they were just movies, my imagination sometimes ran away with me in the darkness as I lay in bed. One night I woke up and really needed to pee, but I was certain that the Wolf Man was actually in our house, right down the hall in the living room.
I was terrified, so frightened that I even tried holding my breath, certain that if the Wolf Man heard me breathing he would know I was there and come get me. I lay still as a stone until morning came when I saw Mom and Dad again and, in the light of day, realized that the Wolf Man wasn’t real as, yes, I dashed into the bathroom.
Darkness and light are powerful symbols. The Bible is full of such references, beginning with the moment God declared “Let there be light” in the third verse of Genesis and the journey of light began. But we shouldn’t let that sentence belong entirely to God. Nor do I believe that God wants sole title and legal claim to those words.
The Bible, after all, is full of suggestions that we should also be saying “Let there be light” as often as possible, and then, crucially, doing what we can to help that light shine in this world for all who are living in darkness.
Jesus, unsurprisingly, took the light farther, and further, than anyone. He took the light places nobody had ever dreamed of before. He brought the light to you and he brought it to me. Directly. But that wasn’t the end of the journey. Instead, it was just the beginning because Jesus then took the light even one more amazing step—a giant leap for humankind, if we’re willing to take that leaping step.
Because Jesus told us—is still telling us—that we are the light of world and that we are meant to shine. What a miracle waiting inside all of us, and one so desperately needed.
Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man and the Mummy aren’t real, but the world is full of “monsters” that make people feel as if they are surrounded by a frightening darkness that would devour them if it could. And, sometimes it can. And does.
Violence, oppression, bigotry, hatred, poverty … There are so many “monsters” and they can have so many names. Many are so large that we may feel powerless to stop them. But there is one monster we can halt before it takes a single step.
We do that by making certain no “monster” ever has our name.
Daylight Savings Time returns this weekend. Our clocks “spring ahead.” Let there be light, then. Moreover, let’s truly save the light. Not the light in the sky, but the light that Jesus knows is inside us. The light that empowers us to be agents of love, healing, peace and reconciliation in the world.
So, let’s make certain to “spring ahead” with our hearts, as well.
And every day, not once a year.