Today we are going to talk about that most famous parable of the Master Jesus: The Prodigal Son. This is the parable of the son who asked for his inheritance and left for the “far country” He “blew” his inheritance by “riotous living” in that far country. He finds himself feeding pigs to survive, and decides to return home to his father. Most of us understand that the parable of this wayward son is the story of the human race. That is pretty generic. This parable must also be understood in the cultural setting in which it was first given to fully appreciate the significance of what the Master Jesus was telling them and us. Another reason for examining this is to explore what the parable says to each of us on a personal level.
The basic concept of this parable is found in the Old Testament in the story of the two brothers Jacob and Esau. This idea of leaving the Father or Source is dealt with in a story from one of the schools of the Egyptian Mysteries called The Two Brothers. The metaphysical writer Corrine Helene puts it this way:
They all deal with unhappy experiences that follow upon rejection of the true heritage of the spirit. The husks of a mundane life and the appetites of the senses leave the spirit hungry and faint. After a time, the emptiness and the weariness of such a life of the senses cause the spirit to turn from the material to the spiritual, from the false to the true, from the unreal to the real.
Ernest Holmes comments that Jesus was telling the story of human evolution in the story of the Prodigal Son, the unfoldment of every individual.
Everyone knows the basic elements of the parable but what we are going to explore is the permutations of the story and how it applies in your life and my life. We know the parable is not literal.
We understand the father in the parable is God, but there are some questions we need to explore to be clear about the meaning of the story. First, there are two sons in this parable — the younger son who leaves and the older son who stays home. Who is the younger son? Who is the older stay-at-home son? And why was he angry when his brother returned?
What was the inheritance (spiritually) that the father gave the younger son when he asked for it?
If the parable was spiritual, what does the famine in the far country represent?
What is the “far country”?
Another question is what did the son have to do to return to the Father?
Why didn’t the father express disappointment to his wayward son upon his return?
Okay, now let’s answer some questions. Before we get into the particulars of the parable let us note that there are two levels this powerful story applies — personal and for all humankind. If we are to appreciate the nuances of the story we need to know the cultural context in which it was told. How did Jesus’ audience of that time hear the story as opposed to how you and I might hear it? We will find it useful to understand the biblical context of the story.
Let’s start with the scriptural context of the story. One bible commentator explains it this way:
The parable of the Prodigal Son appears in the middle of Luke’s “Travel Narrative” or “Central Section” (9:51-19:27). Throughout this section, Jesus has been journeying to Jerusalem. Along the way He delivers some of His most famous parables, including the Good Samaritan, the Rich Fool, the Great Banquet, and the Rich Man and Lazarus. Most of these parables have themes similar to that of the Prodigal Son: God’s love for the lowly, humble and lost. This section is sometimes called the “Gospel for the Outcast.”
Now let’s look at the cultural milieu of when the Master told this story. Jesus was talking to mostly Jews with possibly a sprinkling of Roman citizens and a few people who came in on the trade caravans from the East. His Jewish listeners would have been astonished that the younger son had the “moxy” to ask for his inheritance. In that society that was simply not done. Those same Jews would have seen the humor, if not the irony of a Jewish boy descending to such a low estate as to be feeding pork, for God’s sake. One could say he started out “high on the hog,” and wound up slopping pork on the hoof! How low can a Jewish boy go? That same audience would have been astonished at the idea that the father came running to greet is returned son. A patriarch of that time would never do such an undignified thing as run. He would have sent servants to bring the boy into his presence. Those contrasts made the story even more remarkable.
Some of his audience may have been hearing the concept entailed in this teaching but there were also probably some educated men who would have understood that the wanderings of the twelve tribes of Israel was the same idea. That same concept of estrangement from God and returning back to our source through trials and tests is entailed . . . “in the wanderings of Ulysses, or the Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor. The same general meaning also may be discovered in the legends of the twelve labors of Hercules, who reappeared in Jewish tradition as Samson, whose name is also a thinly veiled reference to the sun.”
We have no problem understanding that the father in the story is metaphorically God. Interestingly enough in the Aquarian Gospel the father and the mother greet the returning son.
There are two brothers in the parable — the one who left home and the one who stayed home. In my research I was fascinated with the different interpretations of what each brother represents. There is some consensus that the brother who left home is humanity, and in particular, you and me. We are currently in the “far country.” Some mainstream Christianity interprets the younger son as representing the “outsiders” to whom Jesus has been ministering—the poor, sick, demonized, outcasts, sinners and tax-collectors — not Christians themselves. To them the older son represents the religious leaders who reject Jesus message. There are other Christians who think the older, stay-at-home son represents the angels.
Charles Fillmore gives a kind of Jekyll and Hyde rendering of the soul in the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary:
The “two sons” of Luke 15:11 are the two departments of the soul, or consciousness. The son who stayed at home is the religious or moral nature; the son who went into the far country is the human phase of the soul, in which are the appetites and passions. Going into a “far country” is separating the consciousness from the parent Source.
Corrine Heline agrees with Fillmore. She says:
The Parable of the Prodigal Son contains the whole story of our human evolution. Within every individual are the two natures of contrary tendency, as Faust laments, represented in this Parable as the two sons. The Higher Self never fails. As the Father says, “Thou art ever with me; all that I have is thine.” The younger son represents the lower nature, which in our present stage of evolution has taken a journey into a far country and there wasted its substance (life force) in riotous living.
What does the “fleshpots of Egypt” represent? To the metaphysical bible student that’s an easy one. Throughout the Bible Egypt represents the lower nature or consciousness. The Bible is not condemning the actual country of Egypt. The word fleshpots represents our sensuousness — the five senses. Fillmore says: Like the prodigal son, we had gone into a country far from the Father, and there was a famine in that land. We were starving for the divine substance and got no satisfaction out of the husks, the food of the swine.
At the start of this message I asked the question: What was the inheritance (spiritually) that the father gave the younger son when he asked for it? What do you think it was? My best answer to that question is that the younger son left home with the intuitive ability to hear the Father speak to him in his heart. Perhaps, without analyzing it, he understood he is one with the All. He had the power to create by the use of his mind and heart. He may not have questioned that he was a “little g” god. He had been created in his Father’s image, which made him powerful. He was an eternal spirit. According to esoteric writings the early spirits who came to this planet could enter or leave the body at will and then we lost that ability the more we became immersed in the physical to the exclusion of the spiritual. We loved on another. If we took the time to think about it we would probably compile an amazing number of spiritual gifts we the son, had.
The Master Jesus tells us the wayward son entered the “fleshpots”. Sensations and appetites began to rule us. We learned of jealousy, greed, anger and selfishness. We learned to see our brother/sister as separate and different than us and learned to alienate ourselves from one another. We learned to murder and thereby gained the “mark of Cain.” We learned and practiced lust. We had dissipated our inheritance. We wasted it in fleshpots of sin to ourselves and our siblings.
Please understand that the error here was not that of having become physical but of having gotten out of balance by turning our backs on the balancing factor of our spiritual side. We can only suffer so much self-inflicted pain before we have had enough. Our wayward hero comes to himself and realizes that he is responsible, not his Father, for where he was living and sleeping with the lowest forms of depravity. He yearns to go home. How can he do that? Jesus gives us a hint. The son begins to express meekness. His reasoning is that even if his father treats him as a servant it would be better that the pride that got him into this mess. The attitude of the prodigal son at the decision to return to the Father was illustrating what the Bible means by the “meek.”
Psalm 37:11. But the meek shall inherit the earth, And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
Matthew 5:5. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Alice Bailey makes an interesting observation at this juncture in our story as it relates to humanity.
The race is at a point where the prodigal son is conscious of the husks and of the futility of earthly life. He is ready for a careful consideration of the Buddha’s message, and he is ready because he has been devoured for centuries by war and famine, by desire and by the economic struggle. The vista he sees before him appears black and forbidding and full of cataclysmic disaster.
In other words the human race is starting to awaken to the fact that its time to go back to an awareness we lost. Alice Baily further comments:
It must be remembered that the Law . . . . by reason of its activity . . . draws the prodigal son back to the Father’s home. It causes him to “arise and go.” But we must remember that, when Christ was relating this story, He made it abundantly clear that there was no impulse to return until the pilgrim in the far country had come to himself or to his senses, as a result of satisfied desire, through riotous living. This was followed by consequent satiety and loss of contentment, and then by a period of intense suffering, which broke his will to wander or to desire. A study of this story will be found revealing. In no Scripture is the sequence of events (as they deal with the pilgrim’s existence and life in a far country and his return) so concisely or so beautifully treated. Seek out your Bibles, and study this tale, and read for yourselves the pilgrim’s way.
“Returning to the father,” is a metaphor for awakening to whom and what we really are. The secret here is that the son is the Father’s treasure. The Metaphysical Bible Dictionary has this great line in it: “When we make unity between the outer sense and the inner Spirit (the return of the prodigal son to the Father’s house), there is great rejoicing; the outer is flooded with the vitality (robe), unending power is put into his hand (ring), and his understanding (feet) is strengthened. The “fatted calf” is the richness of strength always awaiting the needy soul. When all these relations have been established between the within and the without, there is rejoicing. The dead man of sense is made alive in the consciousness of Spirit–the lost is found.”
Manly Hall explains it well when he writes about why the fatted calf was killed for the son’s return: “For him, the feast was prepared because he had been lost and had been found again; had died and was alive again. In spite of his numerous sins and failings, the estate of the prodigal was higher than that of his virtuous brothers, for he had gained experience, wisdom, and understanding, and had chosen to restore a virtuous way of life while his brothers had remained secure in the house of their father—their heavenly home.
About the return to the Father forgive me for quoting some else again, this time Paramahansa Yogananda:
“The Heavenly Father thus received back the prodigal devotee into His glorious astral kingdom where countless advanced and liberated devotees reigned with His Heavenly Majesty. The Heavenly Father commanded His angels to bring forth for the young devotee the best robes of astral lights and inner perceptions to decorate his soul. The devotee was adorned with the diamond ring of truth; his feet shod with eternal power. There was festivity in the astral world for the return of the prodigal devotee, and he was offered the fatted calf of wisdom and divine bliss. The Heavenly Father told his angels, ‘Let us all rejoice in communion with this devotee, for this My prodigal son was spiritually dead and is alive again evermore in My Cosmic Consciousness. He was lost in delusion and now is found, having retraced his consciousness to My home of Cosmic Consciousness.’ And they all communed in the joy of blessedness.
Why is it important to understand this incredible parable? We understand how it applies on the large scale of the human race. What does it me to you and me? Chances are if you are in this church you are on the spiritual path. Maybe you are feeding the lowest consciousness with the husks of despair. It’s time to go back home.
I thought it would be appropriate to end this message with a quote from our own Gladys Grier. In my research I was delighted to discover Gladys had weighed in with her comments. Here is what she said:
We all, like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, have left the Father’s house [conscious oneness with God], and have wandered into the far country of mortal thinking and false concepts about life and about ourselves. We have squandered our birthright in “riotous living,” we have believed that joy and satisfaction came through pandering to the desires and the demands of the sense man. We have wasted our substance on the things which did not and could not satisfy the heart’s hunger for love and harmony, for peace and satisfaction. Pursuing the shadow instead of the substance, we have at length found ourselves in abject poverty of soul. Cutoff from its source, even what seems like an abundant supply is soon exhausted. But even “if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.” God is omnipresent and His help is ever at hand. When we come to ourselves and determine to “arise and go to the Father,” we make conscious at-one-ment with God, the rich and unfailing Source of every good, and life begins, then and there, to express joy, abundance, health, and harmony.
Sooner or later we will return to that ancient place of our creation. We will, one by one, and as the entire race of humanity, return to the condition called Heaven. My spiritual bags are packed — I will see you there someday.