When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

The Prodigal Son

One of the reasons why the King was hated was that he was so kind to those whom the great and rich people, and even the ministers, disliked. The Pharisees and Sadducees felt that Gentiles and Samaritans and publicans and sinners should be avoided. But Jesus felt that it was as bad for good people to keep away from those who were in error or sin, as it would be for the doctors to keep away from the sick. So he went amongst them, and made friends with them, and was able to help them. Almost every day he dined with somebody who had hardly ever had a respectable person under his roof before. He said that God was not in the least like the Pharisees and Sadducees; the ministers and the priests were both mistaken about God.

Once he reminded them that a shepherd who has a hundred sheep will go in search of even one which is lost, and will seek that sheep for hours and hours through briers and brambles, and when he finds it will be so glad that he will bring in all his friends and neighbors. "And you know," he said, "what a woman does who has ten pieces of silver and loses one, how she takes a candle and a broom, and searches the whole house till she finds it, and when it is found she calls her friends and her neighbors together saying, 'Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.' Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." Then he told the story of the Prodigal Son.

Once upon a time there was a man who had two sons. The elder was quiet and steady, but the younger son was a restless lad who was weary of staying at home, and wished to go and see the world. So the younger went one day to his father and asked for the money which would properly come to him when he was of age. "Father," he said, "give me the portion of goods which falleth to me." And the father, who was a man of wealth, gave to both his sons.

Then the younger took his money, and went a long way off into the midst of the great world, and there had a fine time. He spent his money for this thing and for that, buying what was sweet to eat and sour to drink, and all he thought about was how to have a better time to-morrow. Thus the days went by. Some of the sweets gave him a toothache, and some of the sours gave him a headache, and none of the pleasures lasted long; but he fancied that he was enjoying them all. At last, one morning, he waked to find that he had not a penny in his pocket. All that his father had given him was gone. And then something happened; there arose a mighty famine in that land. Now a famine, as of course you know, is a time when everybody is hungry and there is nothing to eat. There had been no rain. The grain had stopped growing, and the grass had stopped growing, and everything had ceased to grow, except people's appetites—they grew bigger and bigger.

This was exceedingly hard for the lad who had spent all his money. Moreover, he found that in losing his wealth he had lost his friends also. All the gay young men and women to whom he had given so many gifts and pleasures now turned their backs upon him, and when they saw him in the street, went around the corner to avoid him. For they had been only his money's friends. Indeed, he himself had not been a true friend to them. He bad never really cared about anybody but himself. He had never helped another; so now there was none who would help him.

Only one course was open to him, except to starve, and that was to go to work. But even work was hard to find. He did not know enough to do such work as calls for training. In spite of his fine clothes and his soft hands, he could do nothing but what is called unskilled labor. That is the hardest kind and the worst paid. But when there is a famine, business fails, and there are few chances even to get such jobs as that. At last, the only occupation he could find was that of a swineherd. He had a hard time getting even this place, but he succeeded, and there he was day after day, in sun and rain, tending pigs in the field. And because it was a time of famine, when food was failing even in rich houses, he had to have his dinner with the pigs. Now a bill of fare for a pig's dinner is not a pleasant entertainment for a man, even when the trough is well supplied. Think, then, what it must have been in the midst of a famine. The swine had husks, and the prodigal son had nothing better. The farmer came out with a bucketful of husks and dumped them down upon the ground, and the boy and the pigs fought together for the best pieces.

Then the prodigal thought of home. He could shut his eyes and see how it all looked: the house where he was born, with trees about it; the rooms within, and all the familiar furniture; the table spread for dinner, and his father and mother and elder brother sitting down. Was there a place on one side left for him? Why, even his father's servants had enough and to spare, and he was perishing with hunger.

Finally, he could stand it no longer. He said to himself, "I will go home. I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants." So he filled his pockets with husks, and shut the gate upon the swine, and turned his face towards home.

Now that day his father was looking and looking down the road. I suppose that that had happened many times, for the father was very sad about his son. It had been many months since he had heard from him, and the last news had not been pleasant news. So he watched the road, saying to himself, "Some day he will come back." Away down the street, walking slowly, like one who is weary after a long journey, or like one who is very doubtful if he will be welcome, came a man: probably a tramp, for his clothes were ragged and dirty, and yet with a familiar look. And the father looked again, and behold, it was his son.

What did the father do? Did he say, "There is my bad son, who has disgraced himself and me. He has spent all his money and is coming back for more. He thinks that I will forgive him, but he will find that he is very much mistaken." Or did he say, "Yes, it is my boy, now, what shall I do? What shall I do? Shall I take him back or not?" No: he rose up instantly, running out of the house and down the road, so that he met his son while the lad was yet a great way from the house. He had compassion, and greeted him, and put his arms around him and kissed him. And the son began to say the words which he had been repeating to himself, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son." But the father brought him in, and called the servants. "Bring forth the best robe," he said, "and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet; and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat, and be merry." So they cooked the very nicest dinner which they knew how to make, and the neighbors were sent for; and after dinner men were brought in with banjos and violins, and all began to dance.

There was one exception, however, to this merriment. That was the elder brother. He was working in the field, knowing nothing of this great event. When he came home to supper he was much surprised to hear a great noise of talking and laughing, with music and dancing. All the young men and women of the neighborhood seemed to be there, having a beautiful time. The elder brother thought it strange that there should be a party at his house, and he not be invited. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And the servant said, "Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound." But he was angry, and would not go in. "My brother has been a fool," he said to himself, "and bad besides. Now he comes home and my father takes him in and makes much of him. My brother ought to have a whipping instead of a supper."

Then the father left the guests and the dancing, and came out and spoke to his discontented son. And the son answering, said to his father, "Lo, these many years have I stayed quietly at home, and minded your business and my own, working early and late upon the farm, and never disobeying you. And you have never given any party for me. You have never made a supper that I might be merry with my friends. And now your son has come, who has wasted your money in rioting and drunkenness, and you are giving him the best you have." But the father said, "Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry and be glad; for this thy brother was dead and is alive again; and was lost, and is found." Even then, I fear that the elder son did not have a cheerful face, nor did he kiss his brother when he met him.

Our Lord meant that the Gentiles, the Samaritans, the publicans, and the sinners were like the prodigal son, and the Pharisees and Sadducees were like the elder brother; but God is like the compassionate and loving and forgiving father.