While my wife was reading the story of the Prodigal Son to me, I was struck by the powerful dialogue, the structure, and the twist at the end. Granted it was only a parable, the impact was still stunning. This made me think that the story teller, Jesus, knows human character inside and out. He knows how to craft a compelling piece of fiction that grabs the reader (hearer) and doesn’t let him (her) go until the unexpected conclusion.
This led me to think that if Jesus were alive today, he might be publishing his parables as short stories intended to illustrate the power of the Kingdom of God to change our world. If he had written this story today I wonder what he might call it. How about “A Runaway’s Rehabilitation” or “Dad’s Shocking Solution” or “A Bit of Heaven Breaking Through?” The Prodigal is a story that engages us even today.
Look, for example at this heartbreaking demand the son makes: ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’ (Luke 15:11 Message Version). This request was like saying to his dad “I wish you were dead, so I could get my inheritance.” How many dads have been hurt by sons seeking their freedom before they were ready? How many young men have felt the only answer to what they were feeling was to escape home and family. And then this dialogue between father and the older brother at the end:
“The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’
“His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours— but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’” (Luke 15:29-32 Message Version).
In the older brother’s speech he won’t even claim his brother as his own, but calls him “this son of yours” and points out for years he has been a good and faithful son without ever having a party for his friends. Any parent knows how important it is to young people to have fun times with their friends. Anyone who has worked silently for a cause only to be upstaged by another careless person relates to the elder son’s disapp0intment. Jesus puts an uncluttered rant in the young man’s mouth giving us good insight to the depth of this brother’s resentment. How keenly aware of our feelings is Jesus!
Then in the father’s speech comes justification for the norm-busting homecoming party: This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’” In just a short sentence, we peer into the father’s heart. He had felt the sorrow of death for his missing son. Now that the son has come home, dad was not going to let this slip by without a party. Anyone who has experienced reunion with a loved one after a time of separation I suspect can relate to this.
Imagine the novel Jesus could have written with his complete understanding of human life and use of language. That, however, was not his purpose. He didn’t have time to get alone and write about the Kingdom of God. We who write for him, on the other hand, are doing just that, re-telling those same timeless truths of forgiveness and reconciliation that he shared. And we continue to be inspired by Him.