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The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Rabel)

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This is a series of lectures given by Mr. Edward Rabel, member of the faculty of S.M.R.S.
Winter semester 1976 - 2nd. Yr. Class. Lecture 35 given on April 5, 1976

Luke 15:11-32, pp. 214-219 of transcript.

15:11And he said, A certain man had two sons: 15:12and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of thy substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. 15:13And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together and took his journey into a far country; and there he wasted his substance with riotous living. 15:14And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want. 15:15And he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 15:16And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.15:17But when he came to himself he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish here with hunger! 15:18I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: 15:19I am no more worthy to be called your son: make me as one of thy hired servants.15:20And he arose, and came to his father. But while he was yet afar off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 15:21And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son. 15:22But the father said to his servants, Bring forth quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 15:23and bring the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat, and make merry: 15:24for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

15:25Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. 15:26And he called to him one of the servants, and inquired what these things might be. 15:27And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 15:28But he was angry, and would not go in: and his father came out, and entreated him. 15:29But he answered and said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, and I never transgressed a commandment of thine; and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 15:30but when this thy son came, who hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou killedst for him the fatted calf. 15:31And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that is mine is thine.15:32But it was meet to make merry and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

Then in Luke 15:12 He gives His very famous parable of the prodigal son, which is so well-known, and deservedly so. This, of course, is among the greatest of Jesus' parables. It is unique in many ways, and the one that appeals to me the most, is that it is possibly the best natured of all Jesus’ parables. There is not a sour note in it; there is an opportunity for a sour note, but it is never sounded. No one involved in it is really presented in a bad light, no one is judged, everyone gets to do his own thing, have his own say, and it all works out beautifully. Simply as a story, the parable is delightful; but even greater than the pleasant story are the meanings it entails.

As with all Jesus' parables, this has multi-dimensional meanings; and we cannot touch them all. One thing about the parable, folks, if you choose a certain line of interpreting, you are wise to stick to that line, that dimension of meaning, even though in your pursuit of interpreting it, you will get insights into other dimensions of meaning. You will be tempted, then, to try to mix them all up, to try to bring cosmic meaning and mundane meaning and karmic meaning and psychic meaning to them because you see it has these meanings. But that is not artistically wise. It would be just like a ballet dancer who suddenly remembered her tap dancing days and suddenly gave the audience some of that. That is not artistically wise, is it? An opera singer does not give a display of her jazz techniques. There is sort of an artistic validity that is kosher, that we want to stick with. So, decide on a line of interpretation, follow through on it, and then if you want to present another dimension, then make that a whole presentation, rather than making conglomerations of dimensions of meaning, which could cause confusion.

We are going to zero in, then, on only one level of meaning in this parable, and by no means is this to be considered it. We looked at the Father's house, first, which plays such an important part in this parable. Of course the Father's house is a term used very frequently in Scriptures. One of the meanings of the Father's house is omnipresence, itself; the kingdom of God and the Father's house are synonymous on the cosmic level, but in the metaphysical level of meaning, it would then pertain not to omnipresence in the cosmic sense, but as something concerning the individual, the person, you see.

Basically, the Father's house, on this level, would stand for the very center of our being, where we are one with His presence. It is the place in your mind, in your heart, where you know and where you know that you know, where you know God, and you know that you know God. It is that point where in your awareness from which you are able to understand what you really mean when you say “I am and I and the Father are one.”

When a person is metaphysically living in his Father's house, it means that he is living consciously. This means he is able to think only the thoughts he wants to think, he chooses to think, feels only those feelings he chooses to feel, wants to feel, and acts only as he truly wills to act in his life, chooses to act. Such a person is, in that state, in control of himself; and therefore is in charge of his life. He is living from the center of himself and expresses toward the circumference of his life, all as matters of choice. This is called conscious living. Very few people do it. We do it sporadically. I know the popular concept is that we are all living consciously, but we are not. We are living in and out, in and out of consciousness; but when we are in that state of conscious living, centered and based in the Father's house, then our life expresses and manifests the Truth of God.

Jesus describes the younger son, now that word younger is significant. It means a portion of our self which still has some catching up to do, it is still a little behind in maturity, in development of some of the other aspects of our nature. We are not all one grand unit, our name is still legion, different aspects are in different stages of development and of awareness, etc. Now this younger son decides, it is a matter of choice, to take his inheritance and leave the Father's house in order to indulge in something he does not yet know about. He just knows that there is such a thing but not what it is like, not what it entails. This is still an unknown factor to him, and it appeals, and he has the wherewithal to try it out, so why not do it? "I have the wherewithal, the opportunity, and the freedom of choice. I have not tried it yet. Let's go!"

It is not called riotous living in the parable until he does it, you see. This symbolizes something many of us do quite frequently. We leave the conscious basis of our Father's house in our living. It is not an unusual event, by any means. The question, "Why does this part of us so often choose to try to do our living by the basis of our own awareness of our spiritual oneness with the Father?" This is a complicated question. Let's state it a different way, take a different approach. During the course of a typical day in your life, how much time do you actually spend being aware of yourself as a spiritual being, clock-measurement-wise, or one with the spirit of God and fully capable of expressing the good in all that you think, say, and do? How much of the time are you fully conscious of this, and how much conscious living do you do on this basis? The chances are your answer will be "Not much." The average human being simply does not abide in the Father's house very long per day. He gets restless, he forgets, he wanders off, he gets all identified with his physical senses and with the external things and events of the three-dimensional world. Jesus refers to this as the far country.

There is a very remarkable, and to me a heart-warming, thing in our parable, which is the way Jesus presents this observation, with no harsh judgment, no criticism concerning it; and it is very obvious that Jesus regards such human decision and conduct as a very normal and natural thing. It is important to notice Jesus' tone in presenting and describing this choice of the younger son. In no way is this vindictive or down-putting; in fact, the way Jesus puts it, even in translation, it just sounds as though that is the way it happens, the way of the world, the way of human nature; and we can ask ourselves without any feeling of guilt or unnecessary burden why do we leave the Father’s house, which is home base?

Why do we use up so much of our time, energy, and substance in strange and so often unrewarding ways? Why do we continue making so many mistakes when we really do know better? Why do we do anything in life which is not of a purely constructive and spiritual nature? The reasons suggested for this, especially in churches and religions are often that we are innately bad, wicked, or stupid; but – no – none of these are the reasons. The only logical answer is curiosity. We are given freedom of choice, and we have already been notified of our divine inheritance.

Now, we get curious. Curiosity is the real motive behind so much of our non-spiritual thinking and living - not badness, not wickedness, not stupidity, just curiosity. What is it like to be an individual person? What is it like to be a separate identity on your own hook? It is not a matter of is it bad or good, but what is it like, because we are curious about all the possibilities of experience in living, spiritual and non-spiritual. Aren't you at least curious about some of the non-spiritual experiences? Of course you are. Something appeals to our curiosity, something invites our involvement, one of our senses begins to crave its modus satisfaction. It is all a part of what we call existence. There is no harsh tone in Jesus' recounting of this. We are curious about all the possibilities of experience in living, spiritual and non-spiritual, pleasant and unpleasant, beautiful and ugly, wise and foolish. Just go down to any movie theatre where there is a real, real nasty movie playing and look at the line. I went last Sunday and saw "The Taxi Driver". It tore me apart, and I loved it. It was the most unpleasant thing I have ever seen, and I loved every minute of it, because I satisfied my curiosity.

We are curious about all experiences. We like to take chances, and while we love to win, we are also curious about what it feels like to lose.

Q. I think we are talking about need to explore sensation.

A. Yes, because of curiosity. It's the serpent, the impulse; and it has its place, it brings the opportunities for choice. There we go. Now this does not mean we do not love the Father's house. We do. We love the Father's house, but we also want periods of exploring the unfamiliar and perhaps even unsafe territories in living. It is not so much that we want the bad and painful, but we want to know things about the bad and painful. Sometimes this results in our participation in experience of these things. Many times we start out thinking that we are going to learn about it vicariously, to satisfy our curiosity, and before we know it, vicariousness has turned into participation, involvement. You see, teenagers are especially susceptible to this. They want to go where they can at least see what is going on, and before they know it, they are what is going on; we do this as adults, too. All of this is part of the inherent curiosity of human nature, and Jesus understood this. That is why his portrait of the younger son has no judgment nor criticism in it.

Now, I have heard interpretations of this parable, where the speaker decided to be the voice of Jesus and did a lot of criticizing and judging; but that is not what Jesus is doing. That is what that speaker was doing. That is not the tone that Jesus put into His parable. I think it is vital to keep this in mind.

Notice, also, how Jesus depicts the Father's role in all this. He has the father give the younger son freedom to indulge his restlessness and to satisfy his curiosity, and whose father gives us exactly that same freedom? Our Father, of course. What happens to the younger son symbolizes all of the typical life experiences and impressions and reactions which result from our trying to live our life off the basis of our central awareness of our self as a spiritual being: the family, this life, the employment situation, the husks, the ungenerous attitudes of the inhabitants of that land. This is all symbolic of what any person experiences from life when he is making this experiment, living life away from the central basis of his own spiritual awareness.

The point Jesus is making comes to its climax in the decision of the son when he realizes the futility of his predicament in his environment, and then the fact that the father totally rejoices when the son, the one who had wandered away, was now returned. Remember that the father's rejoicing begins even before the son actually completes his return. It says, "While he was yet far off." Far off base, but now heading in the right direction. In other words, the indication here is that God, or the Father within, does not start the rejoicing after you and I have got it made but when we are turned in the right direction. This means something to us; God does not celebrate because of our successes but because of our right direction, our right effort. This is what brings rejoicing in heaven and all the rewards. This is called repentance, and repentance does not consist of achieving your goal. It consists of making the effort to change your direction. That is all. That is what brings the big celebration.

The great beauty of this is in the fact that the Father never once advises or condemns the son for having gotten himself into such a lost state. The father only rejoices for his being found, over his return. The father has nothing to say about his departure, does he? So, we have to see ourselves, again, in this picture. How often have you and I simply ignored the fact that we are spiritual beings, forgotten all about our oneness with our Father, have wandered away from our Truth teachings and tried to live by our emotions, appetites, ambitions, and desire for sensual experience. We have left home base, and we have gone off on these tangents. You could not count the times we have done this; you do not have that many digits in your intellect. Again, what prompted us to try this risky business? Curiosity, not wantonness. The wantonness occurs after you are in, not as a reason why you tried it out. The young girl does not go into a wanton life because she is wanton. She is curious; then wantonness may be part of the famine. It is curiosity; we want to explore the different possibilities, we want to savor life in its many aspects. We crave experience, and we have it. Oh, boy, did we get it! We have all kinds of experience, good and bad, etc.

Much seemed to be wasted in such cases. Much was painful in some cases, but at least in many cases, curiosity was satisfied. Lessons were learned, growth did occur, and we came out of it sadder but wiser; and the Father understands all of this. The Father does not condemn the curiosity in His children. He does not hold our foolishness against us. He gives us freedom, and He gives us an unqualified welcome when we choose to return to living our life in an awareness of our oneness with His presence. No questions are asked, no explanations are demanded, no stiff penalties are laid on us; only a welcome is extended.

Now, at this point, someone might ask, "Does this mean that we shall never again wander off into that far country, once we have done it and gotten our comeuppance, we've had it, then when we are welcomed back to the Father, that means we are not going to repeat this. Does learning our lesson mean that we will not repeat the same type of experience?"

My own feeling about this is that we shall no doubt wander again. We are insatiably curious creatures. In His story, you will notice that Jesus does not give any indication that the younger son shall not wander again. That is not said. The father only said that he was glad the son returned this time, any time; but that is not really the point. The real point is that the Father's house always awaits our safe return, and the Father's welcome is never withheld; but Jesus gives us a bonus symbol in this parable in the character of the elder brother.

The elder brother is also a part of our individual nature, and he, too, is given his say in this; and we hope is satisfied. There is no indication that he is not, we are just not told. It is left open-ended there. This elder is a very interesting symbol, typical of the genius of Jesus. He stands for that part or our nature which has not succumbed to the lure of experimenting with life, just under the influence of insatiable curiosity. He stands for that part or aspect of us which always has stayed close to home base, so to speak. This part of us includes many factors. It would contain our sense of satisfaction from our good behavior, our own good behavior; all of our good and safe opinions about ourselves and other things. He would include our exercising of very cautious judgment, distrust of experiment and of risk-taking, and he very symbolizes that part of us which remains obedient to the voice of conscience; but all that he stands for can very quickly turn into a very touchy thing called self-righteousness until it is illumined by Truth.

Now, this part of the human nature often resents seeing foolish behavior quickly forgiven or bad mistakes corrected too easily. It does not really understand the reactions of those driven by impulsive curiosity to take chances, to act foolishly and to pay the penalty, because this part of our nature has not been subjected to this sort of temptation. Also, this aspect of self-righteousness simply cannot help itself in feeling resentment when it sees good fortune come to someone who does not seem to deserve it. It cannot help itself. Jesus does not condemn this older brother. The way He presents this elder brother lets us see very quickly that he is expressing what he has to express, because that is his nature at that time, as a character in the story and as a symbol of a certain aspect in human nature. We are not able to withhold this until that part of our nature is also illumined by Truth.

Again, Jesus does not condemn this part of our human nature, but He indicates that it does need to be instructed about the meaning of the omnipresence of the Father's good, so the father talks to the elder son, meaning the Father will instruct and illuminate that part of us, if that part of us is willing to listen. It, too, will learn the Truth and be free from that kind of painful predicament. This part of our human nature can and will be illumined when it is helped to understand that it, too, is part of the whole and that all that the Father has is ours “all that is mine is thine”, says the Father. “Thou art with me always”, says the Father. Every part of our human nature is always included in the workings of the principle of good, under all circumstances.

Now, a parable like this, when it is understood in its metaphysical aspect, would give any human being with ears to hear cause for rejoicing. There is nothing in here to make anybody fearful or guilty or judgmental but just the opposite. First, it helps the person to be lenient and tolerant toward all the undeveloped and be-coming aspects of his own human nature, rather than as we usually do, judge and pigeonhole, etc. Then, if we are able to take that kind of an attitude upon our own multiply-developed and struggling human nature, we are that much more apt to grant that same kind of tolerance to other people, in whom we can see this kind of thing being re-enacted. Then we will begin to admire more and more and more the character of the Father, and we will seek to emulate him more. We always seek to emulate those whom we admire most.

Q. We have thought about the father's joy when the wayward son has turned and is coming back home. I am thinking of putting ourselves in that position and of the joy there must have been and what adoration there would have been for the father, so there is great good in what we find in coming home. It would seem there would be even greater success then.

A. Yes. Another thing, if you really get the feel of this parable, you will see that there is something that is really difficult to put into words. It is possible that an individual who has wandered into the far country, is now experiencing a famine and is involved in unworthiness, which is the husks being fed to the swine, that not all of the person is doing that. We think that "she is in that", but really only an aspect of her is in that. Another aspect of her is still at home base; of that same individual, that same personality, there is still a segment of that soul, of that consciousness, which is still very much at one with the Father. When we are dealing with individuals who are mostly into the far-country aspect of themselves, of their involvement, we can always keep in mind the greater truth about them, that an aspect, a part of that individual has gotten involved, there is still another aspect which is very firmly established in the Father's house; and all we need to do is not help that person to reform his whole being, but just get a little bit of coming-to-his-senses in this part, the coming-to-himself part. When the younger son “came to himself", today we would probably say that he came back to his senses and realized what was going on and what was happening.

Q. I think it is very obvious that one of the main things in this parable as we look at the two individuals, the younger and older son, the value of having experience or wanting to experience makes him even more aware of what is there instead of just being safe. To me that is very important in consciousness-growth.

A. Yes. As I say, there are many, many implications, even on this level, that would lead to other dimensions of meaning; and I am sure that any one of them would carry a valuable lesson, and an uplifting one, that is the important part. This is one of the very uplifting parables that Jesus gives.

Text of the original transcript of the last three paragraphs of p.214 through p.219.
Transcribed by Margaret Garvin on 04-08-2014