That’s what the younger kid said.
It’s Sunday of the Prodigal Son, and we’ve all heard the story countless times. I heard that reflection once, that what the younger son said was effectively: dad, let’s act like you’re dead. Give me my inheritance as though you are dead. The father complied.
The kid wasn’t joking, though. It wasn’t a hypothetical construct. The kid actually treated his dad like he was dead. He left home, lived it up, partied (yes, the Bible actually said he partied), and made some ‘friends’.
Some people will comment that these friends weren’t real friends. I’m not so sure. I’m inclined to agree with that perception because they ditched him when the going got rough. At the same time, though, I’m sure that in the modern social sense of friends, which is superficial, that he had lots of friends.
If this were today’s world. His friends would be his IG and Twitter followers, liking every pic of him that he posts: the selfies, the glamour shots, his post-gym workout shots with his abs forming. They would like his pictures with several girls wrapped around him. These friends would all count themselves as being so lucky to be his friends, because he’s capturing everything culture promotes in his person.
He had money, time and no responsibility. Don’t we all wish we had those three things?
So he lived it up. He had followers (aka ‘friends’). Money was no issue. Things were good. They were good because he was pretending that his dad was dead. The figure of his dad’s existence meant that he did have responsibility, he did have relationships that deserved his attention and he did have someone funding him that actually worked for the money.
Did he hate his dad?
I’ve always just assumed this kid hated his dad. That’s why he asks for him to play dead. Nothing in the text, though, suggests that he actually hates the father (in the colloquial sense).
Instead, the issue with the younger kid is that he just loves himself so much more than he loves his dad. In that sense, he actually hates everyone but himself. He values himself over family, responsibility, order or…truth.
By truth, I mean that he must know that what he was living was false. Certainly he understood that he had ditched family and that he owed family something. I doubt he was confused about the meanings of his actions. He may even have wrestled with some of those things before making his decision.
What mattered was at the end of the day, he chose himself.
The disease of our times
The disease of our times: it’s the ego. It’s the disease of all times, starting with Lucifer. I just think, like I’m sure others thought in their times, that it’s really bad in our times.
The disease of choosing me over everything else. It’s a real disease. It has so many manifestations now. It’s being okay with bullying someone because it’s funny to others or taking money from our parents while rolling our eyes at everything they say or ask. We choose cheating on an exam over honesty, or we cut off friends who disagree with us (calling it ‘judging’).
We declare independence of people and influences when we want to do something that we are certain is wrong or socially unacceptable. In those situations we suddenly have the boldness to say ‘this is my truth’. Yet, in so many cases where one should proclaim the Truth, one cowers before others and says, ‘it’s just so hard; it’s a vicious world out there’.
A sad repentance
It’s sad that what makes those of us like Mr. Prodigal Son repent, is failure. It would be so much rosier a story if one morning, the kid woke up and said, ‘You know, I’ve been a terrible jerk to my family! I’ve been living off my dad while pretending he’s dead. I’m heartless!’
But it’s not that, that leads him to repentance. It’s failure, shame and humiliation. It’s when he sees the truth. He finds out that his friends only cared about ‘his truth‘ when it suited them. The friends didn’t love him for who he was. They didn’t care enough about his ideals as much as they cared about themselves. They had the same disease of ego that the kid had. On top of that, though, he had failed with his money, failed in his friendships, failed in finding a career. He had nothing. He was a failure even by his own standards.
His repentance does not come from a love for others. The text tells us that what makes him think of changing, is still his ego. What makes him crawl back to daddy, is not even a remembrance of how loving his dad was to participate in the game of ‘let’s pretend you’re dead’. Instead, it’s, ‘at my dad’s house there’s food and life won’t stink [literally]’. That’s what leads him to go home (note he never calls it ‘home‘ in the text).
Something to consider…
When the son starts heading home, he’s not a better person than when he left it. Sometimes we think we need to ‘get out of the house for a bit’ (whether literal house or Church), to experience the world, so that we appreciate home. That’s dumb.
Again, if you mean it as a means of repentance or of figuring things out, that’s just dumb. The kid didn’t go home better. It’s not like he had discovered some truth that made him go home. He didn’t go home because he realised he was mistaken. He went home because he stank, he was poor, and because he failed.
We should not need to be poor or humiliated actively to learn our lessons. To suggest that one ought to go away to party it up to ‘figure it out’ is a lie. At the very least, do not use the Prodigal Son as an example because he learned nothing while he was gone other than that without his dad’s existence, he was meaningless. You don’t need to mess up your life actively and intentionally to arrive at his conclusions.
What a dad
Indeed, what a dad. This kid is crawling back home, not because he appreciates his dad or respects his dad, or anything positive about his dad. He sees only positive he might receive from his dad. He does not love the father for who he is, but what he can give. It’s so disgustingly cruel.
Yet, there’s the dad. He is standing there, waiting every day to see his son. When he sees him even from a distance, he sprints for him and hugs him. He does not let him finish the rehearsed script the son has prepared in fake repentance. He does not allow the proposition of a son pretending to be a hired worker, a servant. It’s just not who the dad is.
The restoration of the son to his sonship appears to have no caveats. The embrace of the father was not accompanied with a diatribe or lecture about how cruel the ‘let’s pretend you’re dead’ game was, even though the father would be within his rights to do any of the above. In fact, later that evening, his dad would even lawyer for the kid against his other problematic kid.
Needless to say, the lost kid…he’s us. He’s you and he’s me at various times in our lives. We’re all about us, ourselves. We worship the me: individually and culturally. We have a Dad who still believes in the Us.
Every time you choose you over truth, honesty, virtue, integrity, family, values, kindness, or anything good in existence, you worship you. Every decision of you over something right, is a self-worship and a game of ‘let’s pretend Truth is dead’. It’s a horrible game, and it is us who end up failing. We fail because underneath the party scenes of our choosing, the Truth of where it all comes from and goes to, will prevail.
It’s lent. If you, like me, have played the game of ‘let’s pretend you’re dead’. Go home and say sorry. Your Dad is waiting and there’s no lecture.