I have some questions about this story that have always puzzled me. Today, in desperate circumstances, when I am straining scripture for another drop of grace, these questions beg for answers.
Why did the father give him his half of the inheritance? Was he hoping his son would make some amazing responsible decisions and invest the cash wisely so that he could turn his rebellious ways around..and be a man? Was he thinking that his son would crash and burn and come to rock bottom..as he eventually did? Was he just plain out tired of his son's nagging and shenanigans and wanted him out of the house? Was the son overpowering him with his bullying and attitude of entitlement- just plain arrogant and spoiled? Was there so much sibling rivalry that the father had to oust the one that was most aggressive?
The question which has gotten my attention lately is this one: where was Mom?
Was the father a widow? Was the more vulnerable son acting our his loss of a mother? Was the other son taking the mother's place for the hole she left in the father and brother..so that he became the good son..and very passive-aggressive? Was he like the one part of John Bradshaw's, who coined the term, ugh, dysfunctional, family mobile, who tries to keep the balance by being extra good, following all the rules, the one who may become a minister and do-gooder? Perhaps he was the balance for his brother's wanton ways.
Maybe the mother left the family and was quite a hussy or had some serious addictions? Maybe the weaker son never had a fair chance because he inherited her genes as well as the loss of good solid mothering? Maybe the father was quite the codependent and just wanted to make everyone happy? Maybe a few alanon meetings would have set him straight.
My meanderings really lead to nowhere, which is the path I am tempted to run off course on this morning, my rogue path. Rogue is the word of the day it seems. It means off the main course and leading to the aberrant, wild and often dangerous. Someone stop me!
I hear you answer, Father. Stick with the common interpretation of the Scripture and focus on the Father's love. Perhaps my loved one has chosen the path of the dangerous son, while I must be careful not to take the equally deadening path of the safe son- the one who stays home and broods, resents, questions, while doing the right thing on the surface.
I need to examine my attitude and remain in the knowledge of who the Father is and that ,although I don't see the generousity of His hand at this moment, I must go back to basics. I must not forget that He has given me everything and even the things that seem awful, He has allowed only because He can turn them around to building His kingdom of a love greater that any one us have ever known. I want that, I believe that. I choose that, no matter what my day brings.
I must remember that unlike the two lonely boys, I have a Mother and she watches over me and my children with the same quiet compassion that she had for her only Son. I must remember too that she stands firmly on the head of the serpent of deceit, whom she crushes beneath her feminine feet. Her name is Mary.
Return of the Prodigal Son comes from the New Testament Gospel of St. Luke. It tells the story of two brothers, each of whom receives a share of his father’s estate. One stays home and works hard; the other squanders his share in a hedonistic lifestyle and eventually returns home penniless and penitent. Rather than chastising the irresponsible youth, the father embraces him, gives him fancy clothing, and prepares a great feast. The other son was angry until his father explained: "Your brother was dead and has come back to life, was lost and is found." Bearden updates the story: "The Prodigal Son has left North Carolina, gotten into bad company and has come back to the ‘old folks,’ his home, where, as Robert Frost says, when no one else wants you, theygot to take you in." In either version, it is a hopeful story of repentance and forgiveness, and a lesson about the possibility of turning lives around and beginning anew. It also underscores the importance of family in the stability of young people’s lives, an issue especially significant today.
The collage contains references to both the traditional and modern versions of the story. The returning son, on the left, is greeted by two women, reflecting perhaps a common type of contemporary nuclear family. The candle between the two women might refer to the proverbial candle in the window, left burning for returning friends and family members. On the right are utensils and a salt shaker, and on the left a bottle of wine, perhaps reflecting the feast that would be served to celebrate the youth’s homecoming.
Bearden’s work is strongly influenced by the musical forms of jazz and the blues. The rhythms and tones of jazz are reflected in the way he arranges shapes and patterns and applies color to his collages. The fact that jazz is often made up of improvisation combined with a general underlying plan parallels Bearden’s working technique. Part of the message contained in The Prodigal Son was inspired by the blues, from which he adopted values such as hope and the existence of dignity in all subjects, even the most downtrodden. He said, "Even though you go through these terrible experiences, you come out feeling good. That’s what the blues say, and that’s what I believe—life will prevail."
— Mariann Smith