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.

6 thoughts on “A Hidden Figure In ‘The Prodigal Son’

  1. Thank you Ken. Yes, the hand that rocks the cradle belongs to her that virtually gives her life for her children and family…..what greater love? Your salient point is strong as is love, I.e. “God Is Love”. Thank God for the unimaginable unconditional quality.


    1. I thank you, Tim, for your companionship. The infinite love awaits, and surrounds, us all.
      We are a grain of sand and God’s love is a beach beyond the breadth of the universe,


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