I am grateful for any story that encourages me to discover my path in life; and I consider the Parable of the Prodigal Son to be one of those stories. As in T.S. Elliot’s observation–that we can return to where we started after all our travels and see it with new eyes–the Prodigal Son is welcomed back by his father after his travels, both celebrating a new blossom on an old tree.
The fact that Jesus’s stories are called parables alerts us to the fact that they are truths from “beyond” our ordinary understanding (the root meaning of ‘para” being “beyond” as in paramount and paradox).
For me to quote parables as wise hints for living a human life–and of our freedom to discover our own values–may be considered suspect by a devout Christian; but in my own way I value these stories.
I don’t think that the story of the birth of Jesus in a manger is understood to be a parable about parenthood. But as a parent who meant well but failed, that is what I am hearing this morning in that Biblical account.
When Biblical stories are treated as evidence of the miraculous—as in the idea that Joseph’s seed was not necessary in this special birth—we may be forgetting that the ‘beyond’ is always intersecting with the physical space and time in which we live; most powerfully when new life comes forth into our ordinary world.
Why would some great intelligence, whose boundless love emanates from a great Beyond, bypass Joseph’s seed? After all, this Biblical story leaves room for Mary’s womb and the familiar passage of nine months of terrestrial clock time? And perhaps the donkey who carried Mary all day—ready to bed down on a mattress of straw in a village barn—may have stood in awe among the sheep and cows, sensing that something extraordinary has happened.
I prefer to think that the story of the birth of Jesus is a parable about how all life remains a mystery and that every being who comes into this world comes from a beyond that most of us have forgotten how to honor; a mystery that remains unfathomed, however many stories we tell about it.
I don’t believe that the Bible has much to say about how Joseph felt before the birth of his son, Jesus. Since the Bible is written to celebrate the life of an enlightened teacher who came to remind us of a profound truth: that we must not ignore our human responsibility to evolve spiritually until we are able to treat the needs of others as just as important as our own–if we are to realize our human destiny.
Since the narrative of the New Testament is about the life and teachings of an enlightened being, the hopes and dreams of his parents are not part of the story. But for parents, whether or not we are Christians, our hopes and dreams for our children are not secondary.
And for anyone who has lost a child, and thereby seen their hopes and dreams for him or her dashed against the hard cold earth, the parable of some seeds falling on stony ground is not one that can help us.
A more comforting parable is that we were never the true father of a living being who came from a great beyond and for whose soul, during their brief visit with us, we were the temporary guardian.
Perhaps among the men and women who stood in the field where Jesus died on the cross, Joseph, the terrestrial father of Jesus, watched with his eyes downcast, his heart broken by his son’s lonely and painful death; and by his inability to prevent it.
“Forgive ourselves for only knowing what we knew at the time, especially with children.” Maria Helena Kubrusly.