The Prodigal Son – a parable about a young man who claims his inheritance before it's due, runs away, wastes every penny he has, hits rock bottom and returns home, planning to earn his father's forgiveness, before finally learning that his father loves him, no matter what.
Jesus looked at the crowd of people gathered all around him. “All right,” he told them, “settle down. There's something important I want to teach you.”
“We're too old for school!” someone called out.
Jesus smiled, “Are you too old for a story?” he asked them.
The people looked at each other and shrugged, then they sat down and when they were completely silent, Jesus took a breath and began to speak.
“I hate you dad, you're always telling me what to do, you think you know what's best for me but you don't. I wish you were dead!”
Josh's dad looked at him for a few moments and then he turned around and went into the house. He came back a few minutes later and gave Josh a large cloth bag.
“I can't make you love me, son,” he said sadly. Then he went inside again, leaving the front door wide open.
Josh looked at the bag in his hands. It was bulging and heavy. He put it down on the ground and opened it. It was full of silver coins. He counted them. It was one-third of his father's fortune, the amount of money that he was supposed to get when his father was dead!
Josh tied up the money bag, then he went to his room, packed his belongings, left the house and stomped through the fields until he came to the edge of his father's land. Then he stopped and looked back. The front door was still open and Josh thought he caught a glimpse of his father, standing by a window. Josh spat on the ground, turned his back on the house and walked away. “I'm never coming back,” he told himself, “never!”
The city was amazing, everything that Josh had dreamed of and more. He couldn't understand why his father didn't want him to come here, it was a wonderful place, you could do anything here. Josh found the finest hotel in town and took the biggest room that they had. It wasn't cheap, but the money was his now and he didn't have to do what his father said any more; he didn't have to be sensible.
After that life got a bit crazy – girls, gambling, fine foods, fast horses, the best of everything. Josh had never been so popular, everybody wanted to be friends with the man they called the prince of partying. But soon the money bag stopped bulging and it got lighter and lighter until one day Josh reached inside and found that it was empty. He'd spent every penny that his father had given him and now he had nothing left and nothing to show for it.
The next day, the owner of the hotel asked Josh to pay his bill for that week and when he found out that Josh had no money he threw him out onto the street. Josh wandered through the city, going from one friend to the next, asking them for help, but no one gave him anything, they didn't want to be friends with a beggar.
Josh realised that he had no choice; he was going to have to get a job. He knew about farming, that was the family business, but this year there hadn't been enough rain and the crops in the fields hadn't grown properly, so the farmers near the city had no work to offer him, except for one, but he didn't grow crops, he kept pigs. Now Josh knew that God's law said that as a Jewish man he was forbidden to even touch pigs, never mind look after them. But there was no other work to be had, so Josh took the job.
And what an awful job it was! Sweeping all the mess that the pigs had made into a pile and then shovelling it into a barrow and wheeling it away. It stank! Feeding the pigs all the scraps and leftovers that weren't good enough for people to eat. It made Josh feel sick! But he couldn't be sick because his belly was empty – food was expensive now that there wasn't much of it around and Josh didn't earn enough money looking after the pigs to eat properly. He was so hungry that he started to think about eating the pig food. And once he started thinking about it, he just couldn't stop, until one day he picked up a handful of the food – it was full of smelly meat and rotting vegetables and thick brown jelly that dribbled between his fingers. He opened his mouth, held his nose and counted to three.
“One ... two ... two-and-a-half ... two-and-three-quarters ... Bleurgh! What am I doing?” Josh asked himself as he hurled the pig food across the sty. “In my father's house there's food to spare, even his servants have more than enough. I'll go home, I'll tell my father I'm sorry, I'll tell him I don't deserve to be his son, I'll be his servant instead.”
Josh climbed out of the pigsty, brushed the dirt from his clothes, and without stopping to look back, he walked away from the city and headed for home.
Back at the farm, Josh's father was standing by the window looking across the fields. He'd stood there every evening since Josh had left, hoping to see his son coming home. He hadn't chased after him when he'd gone, there was no point, he'd just left the front door open so that Josh could come back any time he wanted. As he watched Josh's father saw a man in the distance, heading towards the farm. He kept watching for a few minutes as the man got closer and then suddenly, with a whoop of delight, he dashed from the room. The old man leapt through the doorway of his house and as he landed on the ground he hitched up his robe so that he wouldn't trip over it and then he ran.
Josh stopped and stared – someone had burst out of the farmhouse and was tearing through the fields. It looked like … his dad! But what was he running away from? Then Josh realised, his father wasn't running away from anything, he was running towards him. As the two men met Josh threw himself to the floor and began to cry out – “Father, father, I'm so sorry, I don't deserve to be your son any more, I'll be your servant, I'll earn your forgiveness. ”
But before he could finish speaking Josh found himself being lifted up from the ground, he felt his father's arms wrapped around him and he heard his father's voice whisper in his ear, “My son, my son, you're home, that's all that matters, you're home.”
And that night the farmer and all his servants celebrated the return of his son with the feast to end all feasts.
“Now what do you make of that story?” Jesus asked his audience.
“The father must be mad,” someone muttered, “taking back the son after what he'd done.”
“Don't you see?” Jesus answered, “the father is God and the son, well that's all of you. You've told God that you don't want him to be in charge of your lives. You've decided that you know what's best. You've run away from him. Now he's waiting, watching for you to return and the door is always open, you can come back to him any time you want. And when you do, he will welcome you with open arms and there will be a great celebration in heaven.”
And with that, Jesus left them to think about what he'd said, and I'll leave you to think about it, too.