If you look carefully, the news-media will always offer material for preaching or writing. In today’s fast-moving environment the pen has provided a wide-open pulpit, for quick reading without leaving the comfort of home or office.
A news column by Ruth Ann Dailey in the Sunday edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 23, 2019, detailing “Three cultures interpret the Prodigal Son.” Her take on this experiment is profound as she reports it in a very comprehensive manner.
It seems that a theology professor, Mark Allan Powell of Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, had groups in three different countries read the parable then reflect on what it meant to them. The nations involved were the United States, Russia, and Tanzania. Each remembered different facts relating to the story. Americans said the younger son fared badly since he wasted all the money on dissolute living. The Russians claimed he found himself in dire straits because of a famine. Tanzanians said no one would help him which led to his downfall.
Accordingly Ruth Ann’s column mentions that each different nation responded in like manner to their own cultural and economic situations.
Interesting how persons think differently on any given subject in life, and are guided in their decisions to determine the outcome for any particular issue that may confront them. This does not mean any one is right or wrong. Each one follows his/her own concept as to the information gleaned from the known matter.
This article brought the thoughts of different parables and/or specifics Jesus taught his listeners. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus explained the teaching on adultery (Mt. 5: 28 ff). Yes, we know that it is just as remiss on our part to even look at a woman with severe lust in our hearts as to perform the act as well. However, it was the Pharisees and Scribes who became the target for this message. They were always attempting to trap the Lord and found themselves on the losing end of condemning others while making themselves out to be above the law. Didn’t they get the message?
Now the Prodigal Son (LK. 15: 11-32), perhaps the most profound parable Jesus told the crowds, showed everyone, especially the Pharisees and Scribes, the one truth he wanted to leave us with, His Father’s Mercy. This was the most prevalent message Jesus constantly handed to his listeners, and the reason He came to mankind. Not to condemn us, but forgive us our sins. The one group that should have seen Jesus as he was, the answer from many years of prophecies, but pride appeared to take center stage. They couldn’t accept a Messiah who preached love and forgiveness. Where was the warrior on a white stallion with a mighty sword to clear the threshing floor of their enemies?
How easy it is to take a parable and apply a new meaning to suit one's current situation in life. However, when attempting to do this, the real meaning that Jesus portrayed in this parable was not the prodigal son, his brother who was reluctant to accept the father’s generosity, but to realize our Father is so merciful that both sons and those of us who may fit either one’s personality still need the Father’s Forgiveness. And he overlooks both.
The article is endearing as to the many thoughts of learned people, but the real meaning of the Prodigal Son teaches all of us about God’s never-ending love and total forgiveness.
Ralph B. Hathaway, June 2019