The Parable of the Prodigal Son (title to be changed later) is often read on its own and in the context of repentance, which is a big part of this season of Lent. However, this week we invited students to rethink this parable by reading it along side the two preceding it: the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.
The parable of the lost sheep is about someone who takes care of 100 sheep when one goes missing. This person goes to find that sheep while leaving the other 99 behind - sounds kind of irresponsible to me. Sheep are not smart creatures those 99 are gonna get lost. In the context of repentance…sheep don’t repent…they aren’t the most intelligent of creatures (but we love them anyway). The same goes for the woman and the lost coin except this time one out of 10 is lost. WE also thought it was weird that she had a party for a lost coin…must have been a good one. Coins do not repent either … so what are these stories about and how do they affect the story of the prodigal? The reason these parables should be read together is because these three parables are about counting or forgetting to count: 1 out of 100, 1 out of 10, then 1 out of 2 with the story of the prodigal. The youngest of 2 sons goes off with his inheritance and basically throws it all away. He is so desperate that he worked slopping pigs. Finally, he goes home possibly out of desperation ; however, the text does not say he repents. He is welcomed with open arms by his father and WITH A PARTY! But, the father forgets something…he forgets to tell his other son…he forgets to count. The older son is upset because he has been there for his father this whole time. He has dedicated his life to his father and the land. Yet, he was not told about this party nor does he feel that he is important.
The parable of the forgotten son or the dad that forgot is a story that invites us to remember to count people even if we think they will always be around. The parable also invites us to identify with any character in the parable: the dad who forgot, the dad who welcomed his son even though his son made mistakes, the youngest son, the older son, even the people at the party. Parables open up meanings, allows us to put ourselves in different characters’ shoes, and display messages that make us question.