There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me”…The older son became angry…[and said to his father], “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends…
The Academy Awards have been announced for this year. As usual, some of the Oscars were a bit of a surprise; others, more or less predictable. In addition to the official awards, the press annually metes out other playful (or snarky!) awards. Red-carpet fashion, for example: Best Dressed, Worst Dressed, etc.
If Oscars were awarded for Bible stories, what would be your picks? In the category of Best Story last Sunday’s parable of the Prodigal Son would surely be an Oscar contender. That said, it would also get my vote for Worst Story Title!
The prodigal (“wastefully extravagant”) son, after all, is really a supporting actor. Same for his older brother. But “supporting” is misleading. Turns out they’re both–one explicitly, the other more subtly–deeply invested in supporting little more than their own self-interest. Truth be told, the parable is a horse race between the two brothers for the “prize” of Most Ungrateful! Each of us is left to discern which description most closely fits us: careless and self-indulgent, or, sincere, hard-working, faithful–and therefore “entitled.” The parable is a cautionary tale against both.
Best Actor in this story goes to the father. But is it an “act”? Or, is it the real deal? One suspects the father would sweep all the categories that matter: Most Loving, Most Generous, Most Patient, Most Humble, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful, Most Wise, Most Forgiving.
Here’s how writer Nadia Bolz-Weber puts it: This is a story of the Prodigal Father. It’s the father who is wasteful! He “wastes” his love and generosity on children who will, likely as not, continue being ungrateful. The father gets the Jesus Oscar for Most Recklessly Extravagant.
The attitudes of both brothers probably fit all of us at different times. Of the two, however, most of us who are life-long Church People might find in the older son a more accurate reflection of our own tendencies.
And yet, rather than guilt and shame this story aims for a response in all God’s children–everyone!–that represents the best in what it means to be most like the father and therefore most fully human: Most Grateful.