Do you know of any father in Jersey who, whilst still alive, has given to his (only) two sons their inheritance? Not a wise move? Perhaps not.
The two words for ‘property’ underlined above are different in the original Greek. The first is ‘epiballo’ meaning, yes, property as in houses and money and investments. But the second, in ‘..he divided his property between them’ is ‘bios’. ‘Bios’ means ‘life’ or living’ – the English word ‘biology’, meaning ‘the study of living things’ is derived from it.
So this father gave his life, his living, to his two sons. Shakespeare wrote a play – King Lear – about a father who did that with his daughters – with disastrous results. The two eldest daughters flattered him with promises to fete him for the rest of his life. But his youngest daughter, Cordelia, was truthful about her love and received nothing in the immediate share out. This play is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies – unmitigated tragedy, actually.
And, see above, tragedy was in store for this prodigal son of whom Jesus spoke. (Incidentally, the old English noun ‘prodigal’ means a person who spends lavishly or squanders money.) If Jesus of Nazareth were telling the story today, would he add that the prodigal ‘geared up’ his outlays by borrowing against his assets and spending all he borrowed as well as all he owned? Probably.
Not so, however, the former politicians in the States of Jersey who have, rather than being prodigal, totally avoided all borrowing and put aside ‘property’ to a total present value of £582,000,000 into public reserves. That’s about £6,500 for every man, woman and child who lives in Jersey. Unspent and uncommitted.
But come back to this prodigal young man. Jesus said that he ‘gathered together all he had’. He leaves the listener to add ‘(actually, all that he had been given.)’ By ‘gathering together’ one assumes he converted it into movable assets that could be carried into a distant place where his father would not see him.
There he engaged in 'reckless living’. Is ‘living’ here the same word ‘bios’ used earlier to describe what his father gave to him and his brother? No. It’s the Greek word ‘zoe’ from which we derive the English word ‘zoology’. Yes, an animal-type ‘life’ reflected in his descent - even to living with pigs and ‘longing’ (i.e. desiring) to eat the same food as animals: pods from the carob tree, eaten only by the poor in Jesus’ day.
Is there any hope for a man like that who has appropriated to himself – called his own – everything that has been given to him and lived like an animal who cannot understand the difference between yesterday and tomorrow?
Yes. There are benefits to being a prodigal. Jesus went on to say that he ‘came to himself’, saw his huge debt that he could never repay, but nevertheless returned to his father. His father made him a royal son – without any repayment of all he’d been given and spent. The man who told the story, the man who would die for others and rise from the dead, would see to it that all the debts of returning prodigals could be forgiven forever.
What happened to his brother? Don’t you remember? He was wealthy, with half his father’s living. He kept it all. But he had no relationship with his father or his alive-from-the-dead brother. Forever?
If only, he’d been prodigal – and then come to his senses.