What might dear old Dad have said after his younger, prodigal son, requested his share of the inheritance, while dear old Dad was yet alive? The original drama below, by Pr. Mathew Swora, based on the parable which Jesus told, recorded in Luke 15: 11-32, is an attempt to recreate the meaning and the emotions of the son’s request and Dad’s surprising response:
“There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’
Dad: That’s funny. If I didn’t know any better, I would have sworn that I just heard you ask me for your share of the inheritance!
Son: You heard right, Dad.
Dad: Good thing I’m used to your outrageous sense of humor, Son. Someone else might have taken your joke seriously, and popped a blood vessel. But I know you, always a clown, always pushing the envelope!
Son: I’m NOT kidding. I want what’s mine, and I want it NOW!
Dad: You’re serious?
Son: Do I look like I’m not?
Dad: I’m stunned. I never saw this coming. I never ever even considered the possibility. Children usually wait for their parents to die before they lay hold of the inheritance. And I’m no spring chicken. What’s the hurry, that you would so greatly dishonor your old man and break his heart?
Son: So, I’m impatient. Deal with it!
Dad: It’s like you wish me dead already! Or how else should I take your demand?
Son: Take it any which way you want, old man. I’m leaving, and I want my part of the inheritance NOW, not later!
Dad: Hold on a second. You just might get your inheritance the usual way. (Clutching his chest) This feels like it’s gonna be the big one. I’m coming, Rachel!
Son: Skip the theatrics, Dad. Give me my share of the money, now, and you can die whenever you like, for all I care!
Dad: So, what did I do to deserve so outrageous an insult, my son?
Son: It’s not about you, Dad. You’ve always been okay, if a little bit square and stodgy. It’s about me. I gotta be free, gotta spread my wings and fly. There’s a big, bold, beautiful world out there with my name all over it.
Dad: So, what would you do out there with your part of the inheritance?
Son: You don’t wanna know. You aren’t gonna like it.
Dad: Does it involve anything that your mother and I and the rabbi warned you against?
Son: That and more, more than you’ll ever know or even think about in this uptight, two-bit, one-horse backwater of a wide spot in the road where everyone is related to each other. Man! I’ve been achin’ to get outta here for ages!
Dad: I could tell. And when the time came for you to leave, I was not going to try to keep you here against your will. But I never thought it would come to something as hurtful as demanding your inheritance while I am yet alive. “I reared sons but when they grew up, they rebelled against me.”
Son: Not my older brother, that prude! That stuck-up, goody-two-shoes prig! He never had the courage to rebel in the least, little way…. But those words you just said sound familiar. You’re not quoting the Bible at me, are you?
Dad: Of course. The opening words of the Prophet Isaiah.
Son: I should have known. Everything comes down to the Bible for you, doesn’t it, Dad?
Dad: It makes me the “okay” father you said I was.
Son: But I also said, “Square” and “stodgy.” Whatever! The only book I care about is our farm’s account book. Break it out and figure up my share of the inheritance. I’m leaving tomorrow morning. Or do you want me to just take what I figure I got coming?
Dad: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.”
Son: More of the Bible, I take it?
Dad: From the prophet Hosea: “To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them…How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?”
Son: Well, it’s what I’m asking of you, Dad. No, more like it’s what I’m demanding of you. I’m leaving, whether you like it or not. So, give me my share of the inheritance, unless you want me to just take what I figure is mine. Otherwise I might just go off without it and starve to death!
Dad: Okay. You get your inheritance.
Dad: Yes, as you wish. I’ll sell off some of our livestock this afternoon and give you the proceeds tonight.
Son: Now you’re kidding.
Dad: No, I’m not. You’ll get your inheritance before you leave tomorrow.
Son: I wasn’t expecting such a response.
Dad: Like you said, I wouldn’t want you to starve to death.
Son: But why should you even care? Haven’t I just effectively disowned you? By demanding my share of the inheritance now, while you’re yet alive?
Dad: Of course, you did. I get that.
Son: Well, at the very least, I expected you to disown me back. What will the relatives and the community think if you don’t disown me?
Dad: That’s the least of my cares right now. None of this is about them. Son, you can disown me all you like, but if “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,” then why should mine ever cease?
Son: (Groan) Not the Bible again!
Dad: What I’m trying to say, Son, is that you can disown me all you like, but you’ll always be my son, wherever you go, whatever you do. Besides, if I did disown you and refuse you your share of the inheritance, that would only confirm for you all the reasons you probably think you have to leave, am I right?
Son: I had them all rehearsed and ready in my mind.
Dad: Okay. Let’s hear’em.
Son: You’re an uptight, unfeeling, over-wrought, hyper-strict, religion-muddled ogre whose self-restraint, self-discipline and self-denial are so oppressive that they oppress everyone else around you, too.
Dad: Is that all?
Son: And that’s why you always disapprove of everything I’ve ever wanted, and refuse me what’s mine.
Dad: Like when?
Son: Like when you disowned me and withheld from me my inheritance.
Dad: But I didn’t.
Son: But if you had withheld my part of the inheritance, as I expected, and as you’re supposed to, and I half-hoped you would, then I could be the martyr for a change. And that would only prove my point.
Dad: And I’m not playing your game. On my word, you’ll get your part of the inheritance tonight, which I figure should be at least the value of seven sheep and two-year’s worth of grape and wheat harvests.
Son: I’m stunned. That’s better than I had expected.
Dad: Like you said, I wouldn’t want you to starve to death. But you get all that on one condition.
Son: I knew there’d be a catch. Okay. Let me have it. What is it?
Dad: That wherever you go, I go with you.
Son: Now you’re really kidding. And it’s not funny, Dad.
Dad: Once again, I’m not kidding. I’m coming along with you.
Son: Yah, sure! Coming along to crimp my style and wag your finger at me every time I start to have any real fun? Great! Like that’s ever gonna happen. Try and come with me, old man, and I’ll leave you in the dust. You’ll wake up in some dusty old tavern one morning and find me gone, long gone.
Dad: I’m not coming along to keep tabs on you, nor to crimp you style, Son. I’m going with you into that far off country to do anything and everything you do. Maybe I’m ready for some wine, women and song, too!
Son: Who are you, and what have you done with my father?
Dad: So, when do we leave?
Son: But you can’t leave!!!!
Dad: What do you mean, “I can’t leave?” Don’t think that I’m incapable of any of the things you have in mind. We’re made of the same stuff, Son. And don’t think I’ve never been tempted to do everything or anything you might want to do.
Son: But, Dad, you’ve got to stay here! My brother needs you. So does the rest of the family, and the whole community, for that matter!
Dad: And you think we don’t need you?
Son: What do I care about that? This is about me and what I need.
Dad: What about me?
Son: You’ve never struck me as the kind who needs to run off and live it up. If anything, we’ve always relied on you not to run off and live it up. In fact, we’ve all needed you to not run off and live it up.
Dad: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
Son: But you’re old!
Dad: I’ll overlook that remark. And what if I am old? Maybe it’s my time finally to run off and waste what little time and substance I have left in this life, after all those years of being here for your mother, for you, your brother, the village, the relatives, the synagogue….
Son: But if everyone were to act like me, then no one could!
Dad: You lost me there. Run that by me again, please?
Son: Look, Dad. If I’m to run off and rebel, someone else has to stay and obey. I mean, what women could I carouse with if no one stays home to raise and protect their daughters? Or how can I drink myself silly if no one tends the vineyards? How can I pig out like a glutton if no one goes hungry out in the fields protecting their cows and sheep from bandits and wolves?
Dad: Well, excuuuuuuse me for feeling used!
Son: Nothing personal, Dad.
Dad: Well, maybe I’m tired of being the one who always stays, obeys and tends the sheep, the vineyards, the fields and the family all the time.
Son: I admit, Dad, if anyone should be weary of being virtuous, dependable, disciplined and responsible, it would be you. But think of all the people you’d be hurting if you suddenly dropped your part in this community like a hot stone. It’ll be hard enough to fill in the gap after you die. Can’t you hang on till then?
Dad: Can’t you?
Son: You got me there, Dad. That was tricky. But this isn’t about you. It’s about me and my need to fly this coop. Besides, if you run off with me, who will I come home to?
Dad: So, you’re planning on coming home?
Son: No, Dad. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t dare show my face around here again, not with what all I’m hankering to do. The shame would be too great. And the community would be too hostile. They might even stone me to death for rebellion, like the law says they can. And that’s why I have to leave.
Dad: You lost me again. You’re leaving and effectively telling me to drop dead….because of what we might do to you….if you leave and effectively tell me to drop dead.
Son: I knew I shouldn’t have expected you to understand.
Dad: But somewhere down deep in your heart of hearts you’re hoping that I’ll still be here to welcome you when you come home?
Son: If I come home……… Yeah, I suppose.
Dad: Is that what you need from me? That I stay here?
Son: Not just me, Dad.
Dad: If it’s what you need, Son, then yes, I’ll stay. I was only messing with you anyway when I said I’d come along. I need to stay for my own sanity and integrity. I’ll keep working the vineyards, watching the livestock, and tending the fields, along with your older brother. I’d do none of us any favor, myself included, if I followed you into that far country and did what you did, anyway.
Son: So, you’ll do the right thing, even if I don’t?
Dad: Since when did you ever see me lick my finger and put it up to the wind to determine right from wrong, good from bad? I’m willing to be the last person in the world who lives the way I do, if that’s what it comes to.
Son: Which probably means I’d better not even think about ever coming home. You’ll never change.
Dad: Son, you’d better hope I never change. Count on me to keep watching for you to come home. And hoping. And praying for your safety and your return. Because “What does the Lord require of you but to do justly AND to love mercy…..”
Son: Ah, the Bible again. Always the Bible, Dad.
Dad: Be glad for that, because mercy is as much a part of God’s Word as is morality. And we all need plenty of both.
Son: You wouldn’t know that, to hear the rabbi speak.
Dad: He’s young yet. Wait until he has some children and they grow up. Or until he too is tempted, like you, to run off into some far country, so much so that he can hardly stand it. Then you’ll see more depth to the man. Time can do that to you. And having kids.
Son: They make you drop everything and run off, like I’m doing?
Dad: No. They make you cry all the harder for mercy, because you know, deep down, that you’re no different and no better than those who do drop everything and run off, like you’re doing. But wherever you go, whatever you do, Son, rest assured, you can always come home to me, because I have to come home to my Father every day.
Son: But Grandpa’s long dead…… Oh, you mean, coming home to God, right?
Son: You? Who are so upright and uptight? You sometimes wander from God and have to come home, too?
Dad: My daily respectable little rebellions and desertions are no better in God’s sight than the big, outrageous one you’re pulling right now. And yet God never locks the door nor blows out the light on me. So, I’ll never lock the door on you. You can always come home, whenever you like, and the lamp will still be lit.
Son: I don’t know how you can be so hard on yourself and so soft on me.
Dad: You’ve got it backwards, Son. You’re the one being hard on yourself. You’re the one hurting yourself, and I’m afraid you’re gonna hurt a lot worse before you come to your senses. By bearing the yoke of God’s Word, I’m sparing myself a world of hurt and doing what’s good for myself.
Son: But don’t you ever feel used by cads like me?
Dad: Aha! So, now you’re thinking of someone other than yourself for a change? Don’t worry about me, Son. As much as your absence will hurt me, it won’t hurt anywhere near as bad as what you’re doing to yourself. While you’re gone, I’ll think about you whenever we’re celebrating harvests, or high holy days, and I’ll wish and pray for you the same joy as what we know in such moments.
Son: Why would you even want me back, when my leaving is gonna set you back so much?
Dad: This time, Son, it’s not about you. It’s about me. After all these years of bearing the yoke of God’s Law, I would be untrue to myself if I kicked it off and left with you to carouse and carry on. So, don’t worry about me hanging around, crimping your style or throwing cold water on your fun. I have found other joys that don’t leave you hurting or heart-broken the next day.
Son: That’s a relief!
Dad: But I would be just as untrue to myself if I disowned you and joined the crowd that would want to stone you if you returned. I would also be untrue to God and myself if I held onto such a grudge against you so tightly that I could never welcome you home. Every day that I look up from my labors to watch for you along the road home, every time I pray for your safe return, I will be doing that for my sake as well as yours, to be true to who I am, and who God is. And when you do come back—
Son: Fat chance, Dad!
Dad: Okay. IF you come back, I’ll embrace you so tight that anyone who wants to stone you will have to stone me, too.
Son: Leaving you and disowning you are not turning out to be quite what I expected.
Dad: But you’re still going through with it?
Son: Yeah, I suppose.
Dad: Your willfulness, stubbornness and hardness of heart scare me more than anything I can ever imagine you doing. I don’t understand them.
Son: What’s there to understand, Dad? I just gotta be me, I just gotta be free.
Dad: “Grind fools in a mortar, like grain with a pestle, and still you won’t separate them from their folly.”
Son: The Bible again. Did Moses say that?
Dad: No, Solomon, in the Proverbs. And he turned out to be at least as foolish and rebellious as you, but as an old man like me, not a young’un like you.
Son: Maybe he should have done it the other way around, rebelling first and repenting later.
Dad: Is that your plan? Is there hope of your return, then? Always remember, Son, there’s nothing shameful about changing your mind and coming back home. The shame is in refusing to learn, to admit the truth, and to change your ways. That’s the path to crazy. “Return to me and I shall return to you.”
Son: Not Moses again!
Dad: It’s Malachi. I know, Son, that it’s God whom you’re rebelling and reacting against, not me, in the end. But one day you will hear his Word calling you back home, and it will pull on your heartstrings just as much as is the call you hear to rebel and run. When you do hear that call to come home, don’t fight it.
Son: Don’t hold your breath!
Dad: And because of that same Word of God, I will be here, as long as I’m alive, waiting for you, to welcome you back and restore you to the family as though you had never left. Not just because of who you are–my son– but because of who I am. And who God is. You can take that to the bank, Son. That offer is as good as my life, for as long as I live. I swear by all that is most high and holy.
Son: You sound like God.
Dad: And just where do you think I learned that? Not that I would claim to be God. But thank you. Any resemblance between us is intentional.
Son: Bye, Dad. See you tonight for my inheritance.
Dad: Bye, Son. I love you.
So he divided his property between them. 13 “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.14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”