One of the hired hands

Parable: the prodigal son. Today we take on the younger son.

We always hear about the older son because the parable ends with him not yet responding to his father. Jesus frames the parable in such a way that we the listeners seem to be invited to identify with the older: does he accept that his father has forgiven his younger brother?

Allow me to turn the tables: what about the younger brother? Does he accept his father’s forgiveness of him? Does he accept sonship again, or does he continue to treat himself as one of his father’s hired hands? Does he keep his distance? Or does he humble himself enough to give up the last vestiges of control by saying, “Yes, I screwed up, but I’ll accept that you love me damaged”?

Does he allow his father to treat him like a son again? Honestly, we don’t know. That’s not clear in the parable. Both sons’ responses are missing.

Because there’s that sense of pride that can make us think we’re unforgivable and so we never forgive ourselves. To continue to l,ive as one of the father’s servants would allow the younger son to feel he deserves what he has — a home and food — whereas accepting the role of being a returned son means accepting that he doesn’t deserve waht he has. Accepting that to his father, who he is is more important than what he does. That he could never earn the love he receives.

That’s a hard thing because it keeps him in a perpetual debt of a different kind. At that point, his only value is the value his father places on him, even though arguably he’ll work for his father (since his older brother was working in the fields.)

It’s not easy for either son, is my point. We know the father told him not to live as a servant; we don’t know if the son accepted this and returned to live like a son.

Two follow-up posts on the Prodigal Son:

Self-forgiveness & the prodigal
Son versus the hired hand


  1. Christine (aka Oxymoroness)

    I think that is exactly *why* we’re not told what the sons’ responses are. That’s the part of the story that *we* finish.

    Do we dare to live like the Father’s son even though we deserve far less? Can we accept that we are helpless to save ourselves?

    I believe that’s why we never hear back from the sons. Those questions can only be answered by the individual who reads the story.

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