A parable for our age

My favorite parable for many years has been the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Anthony Esolen has cleverly re-written that venerable parable as one that more accurately reflects the age in which we live, or at least the age that our cultural betters would force upon us. Esolen wrote it as a commentary on the recently completed 2015 Synod on the Family in Rome. I believe it can applied further, into the very culture of death, decay and anything goes that we live in today.

A Parable for the Synod
by Anthony Esolen

Much has been made at the recent Synod of the parable of the Prodigal Son. People who try with all their hearts to honor the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage have been cast as the elder son in Jesus’ parable, who resents his brother, the penitent wastrel. That is uncharitable and unjust. Allow me a parable that more accurately portrays our situation:

A man had two sons.  And the younger said to his father, “Give me my half of the estate, quick.” So the father divided the estate, and gave half to his son, who took the proceeds and went to live in a far country, where he spent half upon drink and whores, but invested the rest in a business importing fish, so that when a famine struck the land, he became wealthy.

After he had lain with a score of women, he married and divorced, and took a curly-haired Greek lad into his home, lying with him as with a woman.

One day he recalled the holy feasts he had enjoyed at his father’s house, and he shed a tear, which he wiped soon, and said to his bedfellow, “Pedophilus, let us arise and go now unto my father’s house, for there they enjoy holy feasts, which this land is empty of.” So they set forth.

When they were yet a distance away, his father saw him and came running, and threw his arms about his neck and kissed him.  And the son said, “Father, I have grown rich in a far country. Here is my friend, with whom I lie as with a woman, and to whom I have given rings and shoes and fine robes. Now go slay the fatted calf, for I am famished for celebration, and long to see the holy things again.” But the father hesitated. “Be off with you,” said the son. “I have returned!”

So the father did as he was commanded, with a troubled mind and a heavy heart.

When it came time to pray, the younger son bowed his head and squeezed the hand of his bedfellow. “I shall go in unto the altar of God,” they said, “of God, the joy of my youth.” The younger son shed a tear, because he had returned, and then wiped it soon, and gave his friend a wink.

So it was for many years. Every Sabbath the father presided over the feast, and his mind grew a little soft and his heart grew a little hard. Meanwhile, the customs of the far country spread into that land, and it was said that they lived like the angels, neither marrying nor giving in marriage, but lying with one another all the same. Still the father wished it were not so.

Through all these years, the elder son tended his father’s fields, draining the meadows, sowing the barley, clearing the weeds, reaping the stalks, winnowing the fruit from the chaff, milling the grain and hauling it in sacks back to the estate. He had married too, a good and patient woman. They had one child, a son. The boy loved them dearly, and from his earliest years followed his father about his work, lending a hand whenever he could. He grew in wisdom and stature, ruddy in the cheek and broad of shoulder.

“Father,” said the boy, “why does my uncle do what he does?”

“He does not understand,” said his father, the elder son. “You must pray for your uncle.”

One day a girl from the far country came to the boy and said, “Joshua, you are as handsome as a stag. Come lie with me.” And her eyes glanced like sunlight upon the waters. The boy walked past, and she laughed at him and called him an evil name.

“Father,” said the boy, “why does my grandfather allow it?”

“He is old and weary,” said his father, the elder son. “You must pray for your grandfather.” So he returned to his work, more alone now than ever.  But the people mocked him, and called him a broken stone from a ruined house. And the boy burned in shame, and he defended his father. Sometimes he came home in tears, bloody and bruised, with the flesh raw on his knuckles.  Still the girls beckoned to him and said, “Joshua, Joshua the handsome, come lie with us.”

But the grandfather grew accustomed to the new ways. One day he threw a great feast, and invited all of the harlots of the land to enjoy their harlotry, and he set up a golden calf in the midst, and a statue of a god with crisped hair, and another with the body of a man and the head of a dog, and he cried out to all, “Come feast with us, for the Lord has blessed us with abundant riches!” And there was the noise of licentiousness and revelry.

"The people called him a stone from a crumbling house..."

“The people called him a broken stone from a ruined house…” (photo source)

And it came to pass that the elder son and his boy were coming from the fields, filthy to the knees with mud. When they heard the noise of the feast, they asked a servant what it might be. “Your father has slain a dozen calves, because he has come to his senses, and has decided to take into his home one of the women from the far country.”

Then the elder son shed a tear, and he beckoned to the boy. “Come, son,” he said. “Let us go home and pray.”

But Joshua said, “No, I will not go with you.” And he walked with the servant toward the great house.

“Son,” pleaded the father, “do not abandon me! You are with me always, and everything that I have is yours!”

“Father,” said Joshua, “I have loved you all my life.  But you have nothing, and you are a fool.” And he turned and went.


3 thoughts on “A parable for our age

    • One of my all-time favorite books is The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen. In his reflections on Rembrandt’s famous painting of the same name Nouwen says that during our lifetimes we play each of the three roles in the story: the prodigal, the older brother, and ultimately: the father. After doing a lot of reflection on my life I’ve found this to be true. I’ve certainly been the first two quite often and despite being a father myself am still growing towards being the father in the parable.

      Thanks so much for stopping by my friend. Always a joy to hear from you. Looking forward to hearing what’s next on your journey… Jeff

      Liked by 1 person

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