This much loved parable is a gift for preachers and bible studies, with its clear message of unearned forgiveness and paternal care.
It is often extrapolated to be a dig at the Pharisees, the older son, taking his resentment as a model of the pharisaic attitude to Jesus.
It does not appear in any of the other Gospel accounts, but fits closely to the theme of Luke's message.
The story is generally applied at the personal level, as it is written,
but perhaps it has a broader meaning than the narrow boundaries of personal relationships.
Perhaps the story can be seen in global terms.
It is humanity itself that needs to change course.
There is a crisis for humanity, which is on a set course for self-destruction,
through nuclear catastrophe, scientific overload, or annihilation of nature's resources.
God is calling but humanity, as a whole, does not heed His voice.
Global warming is a stark warning of where we are going,
but the church is not acting as God's messenger.
Earthly Creation is being destroyed by mankind's wayward acts,
just as the Farm in the parable would hardly survive the loss of a key worker.
As soon as the younger son started thinking more about himself than about the family effort
future disaster became almost inevitable. The farm was no longer viable without his willing cooperation.
Love your neighbour as yourself, Jesus said, but it was a message that fell on deaf ears,
and the separation of man from man, individualism, became the consequence
which led, inevitably, to the present crisis.
The religion that emerged from the halcyon days of early Christianity was firmly focussed on self, on personal salvation.
It is the same message that the churches preach today as we cherry-pick our way through the teaching of Jesus
seeking always to produce an acceptable, digestible, version of his radical message.
Unless we, humanity, realise that our resources are running out.
We shall be reduced to eating the food that we would, today, feed only to the pigs.
Not all of us, of course, for there will still be the fat-cats slaughtering the pigs to add weight to their table, and their tummies,
- but the general, "we", will starve as the gap between haves and have-nots widens,
as scarce resources are hoovered up to grace the rich man's table.
A new dark age!
Unless and until the Prodigal Son realises his fate this progress will continue.
It need not end in bloodshed or mutual slaughter , but probably will do so unless the fat-cats realise their peril.
Unless they, we, turn from a focus on self to a radical but fair distribution of the world's resources.
Meanwhile the older son labours on in fields that are more than he can handle alone
- condemned by the selfish actions of his brother to a life on the subsistence margins.
No wonder the Father is glad his younger son is back, it brings hope for the future
- a realisation that there can now be a viable future.
Will humanity ever learn that same message? Will the churches dare to preach it?
Will we ever put others first, even in the interest of the survival of our species?
Can we even sublimate our preferences to those of others in our church
- loving our neighbour as Jesus taught us?