Jesus told parables in such a way, that listening could identify with the characters and the situations in which they were set. The parable of the Prodigal Son interests me because of the personalities of the three characters. The first impression I get is one of a hardworking, contented and successful farming family. All appears well. But the younger brother is obviously not happy with his lot. Perhaps he was bored with farming and felt it was not for him. He may have heard rumours of how different and exciting was life in the towns and cities. So he wants out. He wants his independence.
His father, whether reluctantly or not, agrees to give him what would be his share of the estate, land which the son converts to cash. What were his father’s thoughts? Was he prepared to give his son his freedom rather than him be a reluctant helper on the farm? Maybe he was hoping the boy would be a success and find happiness. If not, would he learn the hard way that “The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence”? No doubt he was anxious for him. Would he make a success in his new life? Would he ever see him again?
What of the elder brother? He was obviously a loyal, hardworking and obedient son who was going to have to take on extra work and more responsibility when his brother left. Was he resentful or did he just accept the situation? Did he consider his younger brother to be inconsiderate and selfish?
The younger son left, and having plenty money was full of confidence. Initially, all went well. He enjoyed himself and was obviously very generous to those so-called friends. They saw his naivety and took advantage of it. However, when the money was gone, so were the ‘friends’. When reduced to poverty and working for another farmer, he had plenty of time to think and assess his situation. He was lonely, depressed in a strange area with no-one to turn to for help. He must have pondered and agonised long and hard before making the decision to return home and humble himself before his father, confessing his mistakes. He was even prepared to be taken on as a casual labourer. What a surprise and relief when his father welcomes him with open arms and then throws a party for him. He is accepted back into the family. The father must have been looking out for him regularly, hoping (or even expecting!) he would return. There must have been tears of joy from everyone on the farm. Everyone except the older brother. He shows his resentfulness by not joining in the celebrations. When he explains his feelings to his father, the father reassures him that he will always be loved, valued, and provided for, but they must be happy that his brother is alive and has returned home. The father must have understood how difficult a decision it would have been for his son to return in such a destitute state. This son had learned a hard lesson. He must have been overwhelmed by the love his father showed in forgiving him his foolhardiness. The parable was told after the ‘Parable of the Lost Sheep’, when the Pharisees and Scribes had criticised Jesus for socialising with people they considered to be sinners. When reading the parable, with which character do you identify and for which do have sympathy?