Sunday the 3rd: Prodigal

Posted on September 22, 2014. Filed under: Religion | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

That is a word with a straight-forward meaningextravagant, wasteful, wayward, off course, and a whole bunch of similar descriptors.  The word itself can be viewed as a clinical description of the very human tendency to relax when things are going one’s way; its consequences are loss of adherence to guiding principles, inattention to asset conservation, even the failure to plan for the future.

Except for a single story in the Christian Bible…   more accurately, except for the editors’ use of the word in its titling of that story…   the word “prodigal” would probably be little used in Western languages.  Thanks to the wide exposure of Westerners to biblical teachings, “prodigal” became synonymous with sinful, degenerate wastrel.

It is a parable attributed to the Christ* which relates an incident in the life of a father and his two sons.  The father had property, which — eventually — would be divided between those two sons.  One son, younger and living in his older brother’s shadow, was impatient to enjoy the goodness of life without having to actually work toward it.  Brashly, he asked his father to give him his inheritance NOW — happy hour was calling his name, and he didn’t want to be late.  The father, reluctantly, gave in.

The father gave, the son received, and the treasure-laden party boy said “adios…”  or, something such.

Freed from the drudgery inherent in making a living, the son had all the time he craved to enjoy life’s little pleasures.  When it came to showing concern over funds availability, he opted for Alfred E. Newman’s**  motto:  “What?  Me worry?”  Facing the obvious was way too much work in itself; denial became his daily mantra.  Though the sun shines brightly today, it will eventually set and leave the world in darkness.  (That was just a lame metaphor for “the kid eventually ran out of money and got booted out of the saloon.)

Experiencing today’s equivalent of the drunk tank or a city gutter, our party boy woke up in a pig sty and found himself (bummer) living off the land.  He once again realized he was not cut out for menial labor…   you know, the mechanics of feeding oneself.   He thought of his former life at home with Dad and family, and longed for the relative ease of just being a hired hand.  In retrospect, he had actually had a pretty good existence back then, and it would be good to get a little of that back — but, it’s hard to re-cross a bridge you burned so thoroughly.  Besides, if he did go home, he would have to crawl back in the deepest of humiliation…

But…   what the heck…   humiliation was his new life-style anyway.  Maybe the family would be happy to see a long-gone sibling and welcome him back — or, at least — allow him back.  Anything would be better than this sad existence.

The point of this story is not the hit-bottom-enlightenment of a degenerate wastrel, but, rather, the love a father has for his children in spite of the very questionable life choices they may make.  Thus, the hung-over party boy looking for a free pass to his father’s stable got more than he ever thought he would get:  instead of a barrage of I-told-you-so and years of black-sheep-of-the-family references, he was welcomed with outstretched arms, kisses, a feast, and restoration into his father’s home.  Well…   yeah…   his stay-at-home and dutiful brother thought it was a bit much and sulked that the ingrate bro was being treated like he never did what he did; but, Dad quashed that sort of talk.  The kid was back, like it or not!

The not so hidden meaning is that God, the Father, has a soft spot for all of his children and is well aware of the tedium, pain and futility inherent in maintaining human existence.  So great is His love that he not only forgives and forgets human ingratitude, no matter how flagrant, but, will also restore the penitent one to the heavenly throng.

By way of an editor’s annotation, sinful, aimless, degenerate wastrel has become the default meaning of prodigal.  Truth is, you do not have to be a moral degenerate to be prodigal.

“Wayward” and “extravagant” may be closer to the essence of its meaning — extravagant, not only by expenditure, but, also through neglect and inattention; wayward, not by adopting a counter life-style, but by yielding imperceptibly to the exigencies of Life that demand our attention daily.  In our modern societies, all work and no play also fits that prodigal slipper.

Unnoticed, much that we hold dear slips away.  Bit by bit things become obscured or made inaccessible by the veil of Time.  Events, faces, voices, and names that begin to elude us are not always  just slips of memory; in reality, they may be little pieces of who we are, or, at least, who we were.

Time, in spite of our resistance, WILL take from us — that is the price of existing.  Often, though, we ourselves give Time a helping hand simply by being too busy to look up from our work and appreciate the blessings that Life has given us.  Our losses, if enough time has passed, will include those persons instrumental in laying the foundations of our life philosophies.  Belated assessment of one’s life often reveals the irretrievable loss of mentors and friends who were key to our personal development.

“Irretrievable” means gone forever.  One who does not maintain the fellowship of kindred spirits — for whatever reasons — will bear the weight of life’s mortality when finally taking the time to look around.

 

_____________________________

*the Christ = The Anointed (Christian faith)

** Alfred E. Newman = idiotic-looking icon of the vintage publication Mad Magazine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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