It’s hard to learn from others’ mistakes. We may cognitively understand the path we should take, we may be well aware of the dangers that lie on that other path, the history of human foibles and failures may be embedded deep in our minds, but we still choose to learn life’s lessons the hard way.
“You can’t tell me how to live!” is the cry of the toddler, the teenager, and everyman.
The prodigal son was no different.
We pick up our story here:
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went out and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”
He thought he knew best. He forsook his upbringing, the way of his father. He embraced every whim and desire he had, and it was fun while the fun lasted. It might have been short-lived, but those temporary pleasures took the edge off his loneliness and emptiness.
Until the party stopped.
And he realized he was in need.
The physical needs must be met first, and here Jesus goes into detail of how low life had become for this young man.
I don’t need to remind you that Jesus is speaking to Jewish people, so as they imagine this story, the prodigal is of course Jewish.
He has traveled to some horrible Gentile country and is living among vile pagans. And the only job he can get is to feed dirty, unclean animals that his people will not touch. No self-respecting Jew would ever take a job like this.
Again I imagine Jesus’ listeners would gasp at this turn in the story.
This prodigal, who was once a rich young ruler, has hit rock bottom.
But it is here at the bottom that the most prideful and the most stubborn are finally broken and willing to look up.