Unfair to the Prodigal Son

Some time ago, I posted a blog (see Give the “Lady” a Break!) in which I stated that I think we have historically and traditionally been unfair to the woman of Samaria because we have judged her according to our modern Western standards and not according to the context of her time. Well, I think we have done a similar injustice to the younger son in the parable that Jesus told in Luke 15! I want to suggest that we have been unfair to the Prodigal Son! Now, I know it was just a parable, but in the name of fairness, I feel compelled to give the young man a defense because we have actually treated him in the same manner he was treated by his elder brother! We have been unfair in our judgment of him!

Let me show you what I’m talking about:

The text according to the King James Version says in Luke 15:13, : “And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.” The English Standard Version says: “Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.” The New American Standard Bible says: “And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.” The New International Version says: “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.” So, down through the years, we’ve heard the text preached with preachers using subjects like: “The Playboy Comes Home!” But where do we get the idea that the boy actually spent his money on wild parties and women? It didn’t come from Jesus and his assessment of the boy’s behavior! We actually got the idea from the elder brother’s statement in verse 30. Look at the elder brother’s complete statement, starting with verse 29: “. . . but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes; you killed the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:29-30 ESV) Now, my question is this: How did the elder brother know how the younger son had spent the money? He wasn’t there! It could be that he accused the younger son of wasting the money in such a manner because that is what he would have done in that situation! My point is this: He really didn’t know because he wasn’t there! But historically and traditionally, we have arrived at the same conclusion while neither Jesus nor the text suggest it!

It is interesting to note that the word the English translators translated as “riotous living” (KJV), “reckless living” (ESV), “loose living” (NASB), and “wild living” (NIV) is the Greek adverb: asotos (pronounced: a-so-tos) and our text (Luke 15:13) contains the only occurrence of this word in the entire Greek New Testament! It means, “wastefully, a spendthrift lifestyle, pertaining to senseless or reckless behavior.” In the context of our text, it didn’t necessarily imply an immoral lifestyle, but rather a situation in which the boy was spending without restrain, spending all and saving nothing! He was spending his money as if he had an inexhaustible supply! He was spending today without any regard for tomorrow! Now let me ask you something: “How many times have you gone into a store and spent more than you intended or more than you really could afford? That was similar to what the boy did, he just did it on a grander scale!   And if that’s the case: We all, at some point have been guilty of reckless living!

Now, this is by no means an attempt to excuse the boy’s behavior, I just think we ought to be fair to him! It could very well have been that his sin was not that he lived an immoral lifestyle, spending his money on prostitutes and wild parties, but rather that he just was not very responsible with his spending habits! After all, we don’t know, because we weren’t there! But I think we would be more exegetically responsible to reach this conclusion than to echo the bitter resentment of the elder brother. Think about it, and let me know what you think! Have we been unfair to the Prodigal Son?