Where is the Cross in the Prodigal Son Parable?
The prodigal son parable saved my life or, at least, my sanity. I had been in perpetual frustration but now I experienced a new low: I said with a raised fist, "F you God." I rightly blamed God. Marriage, family, work: it all sucked. So there I sat in a warm bathtub, my only haven. Probably my attempt to crawl back into my mother's womb. I held in my hand and began to read with tepid interest The Cross and the Prodigal by Dr. Kenneth Bailey. Something hooked me. So much so that as the hours passed the cries from my cramped back and prune-like skin were silenced by something new I was seeing.
The good news of the gospel. Ha! Hadn't been good news for me: mostly mental anguish. The gospel as I had been told never made much sense. Believe that God sent his only son Jesus to die for my sins. OK, but are my sins that bad that Jesus needed to die? Couldn't God just forgive me without having to kill his son? You know kinda like we humans do, forgive each other and move on. And what's with the faith thing? So it wasn't enough that Jesus died? Each one of us must possess faith, accepting his free gift of salvation; otherwise, his sacrifice is meaningless. What? You know, it's like Christmas morning, a gift is only a gift if you accept it and open it. Hum. And, ah yes, let's not forget about those hapless folks who don't accept this free gift. Well their fate includes — even the good ones who are faithless (like Ghandi) — being cast out of heaven where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and of course, no hope for future reconciliation because they obviously blew it in their lifetimes. Yep, their future is a bright one, one of their flesh burning for all eternity. But that's OK, remember we're not them. We accepted Jesus, and we will be in the happy place. Ugh.
Yet here is the prodigal son parable with Jesus alive, not dead hanging on a cross; with the prodigal exhibiting selfishness, not faith. But somehow the prodigal reconciles with his father. Clearly, the prodigal son parable is about how God reconciles with people but it doesn't look anything like the gospel that I've been told. So what gives? Read on and you'll see how...