Parable of the Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son, also known as the Lost Son, is one of the best known parables of Jesus. It appears only in the Gospel of Luke, in the New Testament of the Bible. By tradition, it is usually read on the third Sunday of Lent. It is the third and final member of a trilogy, following the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin.


The story is found in which in their liturgical year is the Sunday before Meatfare Sunday and about two weeks before the beginning of Great Lent. One common "kontakion" hymn of the occasion reads,quotation|I have recklessly forgotten Your glory, O Father;
And among sinners I have scattered the riches which You gave to me.
And now I cry to You as the Prodigal:
I have sinned before You, O merciful Father;
Receive me as a penitent and make me as one of Your hired servants.
Pope John Paul II explored the issues raised by this parable in his second encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Latin for "Rich in Mercy") issued in 1980.

The dual challenge

Within the context of Luke 15, these three parables — the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son — make up a dual plea for repentance to the audience of Publicans and sinners and a rebuttal to the listening Pharisees, according to I. Howard Marshall. Fact|date=May 2008

The Pharisees' accusation to Jesus had been: "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." They may have been referring obliquely to Psalm 1:1:quotation|Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
Their reaction to Jesus associating with sinners was equivalent to the reaction of the faithful son in the parable.

In the arts


Of the thirty or so parables in the canonical Gospels, it was one of the four that were shown in medieval art almost to the exclusion of the others, but not mixed in with the narrative scenes of the "Life of Christ" (the others were the Wise and Foolish Virgins, Dives and Lazarus, and the Good Samaritan. [Emile Mâle, The Gothic Image , Religious Art in France of the Thirteen Century, p 195, English trans of 3rd edn, 1913, Collins, London (and many other editions)] The Labourers in the Vineyard also appears in Early Medieval works). From the Renaissance the numbers shown widened slightly, and the various scenes - the high living, herding the pigs, and the return - of the Prodigal Son became the clear favourite. Albrecht Dürer made a famous engraving of the Prodigal Son amongst the pigs (1496), a popular subject in the Northern Renaissance, and Rembrandt depicted the story several times, although at least one of his works, "The Prodigal Son in the Tavern", a portrait of himself as the Son, revelling with his wife, is like many artists' depictions, a way of dignifying a genre tavern scene. His late "Return of the Prodigal Son" (1662, Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) is one of his most popular works.


The story was the most common subject of the English morality play, which is the precursor of Elizabethan theatre.fact|date=October 2008

Notable adaptations for performance include a 1929 ballet by Sergei Prokofiev and an 1869 oratorio by Arthur Sullivan. Many of these adaptations considerably added to the Biblical material to lengthen the story; for example, the 1955 film "The Prodigal" took considerable liberties, such as adding a temptress priestess of Astarte to the tale.

Popular music

The parable is referenced in the traditional Irish folk tune "The Wild Rover."

Oblique adaptations include "Prodigal Blues", a song by Billy Idol that compares the singer's struggles with drug addiction to the parable, and the musical "Godspell", which re-enacts the Prodigal Son story as a Western film. Bono, the vocalist of the Irish band U2, wrote the song "The First Time" based on this parable. Musician Dustin Kensrue, also of Thrice fame wrote a song about the Prodigal Son entitled "Please Come Home" of the album of the same name released in 2007. The British heavy metal band Iron Maiden recorded a song, "Prodigal Son", based on the parable of the same name, which appeared on their second release "Killers" in 1981. In 1978, reggae band Steel Pulse recorded a song "Prodigal Son"; this transposes the story of the prodigal onto the slave trade, and suggests that their real "homecoming" was in fact to be spiritual rather than physical, a "homecoming" through religion (Rastafari). (Edited By James Mariotti-Lapointe) The Reverend Robert Wilkins told the story of this parable in the song "Prodigal Son" which is probably best known as a cover version by the Rolling Stones on their 1968 album Beggar's Banquet. The Nashville Bluegrass Band recorded "Prodigal Son" as an a capella bluegrass gospel tune (which leaves out the brother).

"Juan en la Ciudad" (John in the City), a salsa-merengue fusion that describes the parable in condensed terms, was Richie Ray's and Bobby Cruz's most popular hit ever, in 1977.


Perhaps the most profound literary tribute to this parable is Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen's 1992 book, "The Return of the Prodigal Son, A Story of Homecoming" in which he describes his own spiritual journey infused with understanding based on an encounter with Rembrandt's painting of the return of the Prodigal. He shows how the story is illuminated by the painting and is really about three personages: the younger, prodigal son; the self righteous, resentful older son; and the compassionate father. Nouwen describes how all Christians—himself included—struggle to free themselves from the weaknesses inherent in both brothers and are destined to find themselves becoming the all-giving, all-forgiving, sacrificial father.


*D. A. Holgate, Prodigality, Liberality and Meanness: The Prodigal Son in Greco-Roman Perspective. Sheffield, 1999.
*T. E. Phillips, Reading Issues of Poverty and Wealth in Luke-Acts. Lewiston, 2001.
*W. Pöhlmann, Der Verlorene Sohn und das Haus: Studien zu Lukas 15,11-32 im Horizont der Antiken Lehre von Haus, Erziehung und Ackerbau. Tübingen, 1993.

External links

* [;&version=31; The story online]
* [ The Prodigal Son, comment by Rev. George Dimopoulos, Orthodox Portal]
* [ Father Cantalamessa on the Prodigal Son]
* [ The Prodigal Son, comments by Kenneth E. Bailey]

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