Jesus’ parable of the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15) leaves plenty of room for Midrash, the Jewish word for imaginative exploration of the scripture.
Once the wastrel son left to squander his wealth on whores and cheap wine, the father took up his daily watch out by the mailbox looking down the gravel road for a telltale sign of dust. That he neglected the farm should not surprise us. In a previous story Jesus told of a shepherd who neglected his flock to search for a lost sheep who showed no inclination to come back to the flock. The father wasted every day out by the mailbox while the older son had to take over running the farm, overseeing the shepherds, and the olive orchard workers and those the picking of grapes, the olive press and wine vat.
No wonder the son was ticked off when the father killed the prize 4-H calf to celebrate the return of the good – for – nothing. Don’t you get ticked off at those people who wouldn’t be caught dead in church until they are dead? And yet God cares for them and died for them?
What was the relationship in that family after the son returned? Did he buckle down to work even though he had already received his slice of the inheritance? Or did the father restore his rights to a piece of the future even though it meant the faithful worthy older son would get less?
The story is open ended. Where do we find ourselves in this story of grace? Rachel Held Evans writes in her book “Inspired,” that the Bible rarely behaves as we think it should and I would add, nor does God.