For such affrontery, he should have been slapped and shown the door. The unmitigated gall. Such gumption. A rich kid, wanting to see the world, asked for, nay, demanded his share of the family fortune. His slice of the pie. His cut of the cake. Trouble was, that was not the way things were done in his culture. To ask for an inheritance while the patriarch was still alive was tantamount to wishing him dead. It was unthinkable!
So begins the age-old story of the prodigal (wasteful) son as told by the Master storyteller Himself. From its very outset Jesus had hooked His audience and they were sitting on the edge of their seats to hear what this good Jewish father–whoever he was–would do in response to such an insolent lad. What He said next must have raised the ire meter in the room to mercurial levels.
The father gave the son what he wanted, not what he deserved.
The boy was entitled to a third of the family estate and this enigmatic father, who should have disowned the ingrate on the spot, signed over the deed to him. Not wasting any time, the boy sold the land and left kindred and kind for the gaming tables, lusty vixens and great lights of Vanity Fair. As the father grieved over the son of his loins, the final sounds of his son's presence in the home were the harsh slamming of the door and the plaintive song of heavy coins clinking and slapping in all the degenerate's pockets as the prodigal disappeared over the horizon.
Hands curled into fists and casual breathing turned into snorts of disapproval as the listeners got caught up in the story. Who is this kid, they thought. Let's drag him outside the city wall and rock him to sleep! To add insult to injured egos, the story takes a pathetic twist. The son, it turns out, blew his fortune while he was away in a presumably gentile district. Far from home, friendless and penniless now, the kid looks for employment. Anywhere. Anything. As Jesus spills this refrain, you can just imagine the smugness that begins to loosen their strained expressions and censuring smiles curving on the faces of this elitist gaggle of Pharisees. Serves the punk right. Okay, now we're gonna hear about some justice, you just wait and see…
Qetsatsah! Oh yes, the very thought of it rallied the room! Surely the boy had to undergo the painful lesson of qetsatsah!
In Jesus' time, there was a law on the books that stated if any Jew were to sell any part of Jewish land to a gentile, said person would experience a ceremony in which they would be banned and cut off from their people. Exiled with no contact with their kith or kin ever again! In a sense, that's what this kid had done. He had taken the money from the sale of his section of land and hawked it all in gentile dives!
As the whispers of qetsatsah sliced through the gathering like flashes from a harvester's scythe, they pictured it all in their greedy little minds. An angry village, headlined by the shamed father, meet the boy at the town limits with a jar of burned nuts and corn in hand. The jar or jars are smashed at his feet with shouts of "You are no longer accepted! You are cut off from your family and your people!"
These PhD's of law were licking their chops, expecting the story to climax and end on this point. But were they in for a surprise! The father in the story, hero rather than victim, defied all convention with his outlandish behavior. He gave the son what he wanted not what he deserved and then he waited longingly for his son to return home! Then, when the son does gather his wits and turns toward the porch light of mercy (actually, he thought it would be the humiliation of qetsatsah) what does he see come flying toward him on two feet but a rejoicing father who falls on his neck and kisses the skin off his face?
The son expected retribution, but the father wanted reconciliation. This unconventional father who bit his lip when the son demanded the unthinkable. This eccentric Dad who waited and watched toward the horizon for the puff of dust he hoped would be a returning son, day after blessed day when he should have bid him riddance. This unflappable father who raced an angry village on unsteady legs, running for all he was worth, beating a path to his astonished son, making dead sure that the boy's first sights and sounds of home would be the joyous sobs and relieved cries of a father who wouldn't let the memory of his son fade, rather than bear him facing a hostile crowd, smashed jars of hateful harvest at his feet.
Even though he deserved it.
"Dad, I deserve qetsatsah…"
"No, my son. Not qetsatsah. Smell the prize beef, my lad, the best of the herd! Here is my robe…my ring…"
"But Dad, what I did…you just don't know all I've–"
"What you did, son, was come home. It was my love that drew you back. You may have left our home, but you never left my sight."
"I owe you, father. Make me one of your slaves! Work me double and triple-shifts. Seven days a week! I will work the rest of my life kissing your feet and the ground you walk upon to repay what I've taken from you–and the shame I've caused…oh, dear God, the shame…!"
"Nonsense! You could never repay me and I would never ask you to, my son. I am rich already with the return of my child! Come, let us celebrate…the wasted years have been redeemed!"
In my imagining, I see Jesus stopping here and eyeing his audience. Do you see it, His eyes plead. Do you? Can you see yourselves as the insolent lad…? Oh, how I wish you could…
No? Okayyyyy…well then (ahem), let me move on to the next act of the drama…let's talk about the other brother…