The Abandoned Father

“There was a man who had two sons.  And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.' And he divided his property between them.  Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.  And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.  So, he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.  And he was longing to be fed with what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. When he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger.  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.' And he arose and went to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'  But the father said to his servants: ‘Quickly Bring the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  And bring the fattened calf and kill it, it and let us eat and celebrate.  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to celebrate.

"Now his older son said ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.'  And he said to him: ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”  (Luke 15:11–32)


Most people think the parable of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke is about the reconciliation of a sinner estranged from a loving and forgiving God. The prodigal son is remorseful at a misspent life. Most of us recognise clear themes of moral disobedience, greed, jealousy and injustice. It is true that the parable is all these things, and more besides. For who can fail to have some sympathy for the older son, angry at his father's ,money having been squandered.  

The parable is no doubt about forgiveness, but it is also about the abandonment of a parent by an adult child. This is often overlooked. The story concerns itself a-priori with an estranged father's refusal to let anger, bitterness and disappointment contaminate his life. Thus, while reconciliation is a key theme in the parable, the core underlying message concerns itself with how one man handled a traumatic absence

In September 2022 Newsweek ran a cover about the rise in family rifts. It was reported that 7% had cut ties with the mother and 27% with their father. 2020 research indicates that 1 in 4 Americans are estranged from either or both of their parents. There can be little doubt that in most societies parents rejected by adult children attract precious little sympathy. Yet adult children are free agents, and as such require to take full responsibility for their actions. Such self-awareness is, after all, key to mental well-being. In the parable the father says as much to his bitter older son: ‘Take responsibility and ownership of your negative feelings towards your younger brother.'

I do not think it really matters in this context if an adult child feels they have good reason to break ties with a parent. Even if there is a good reason, an adult remains in charge and responsible for his or her own feelings.  The same rule applies to the abandoned parent of course. As likely as not, there may have been subtle dynamics at play in the parent-child relationship. In the instance of the prodigal son, his desire was to cut ties with his family and make his own way in the world. In the modern parlance of today's "millennials" it may have been to escape his father's “toxicity" and "control". At least the prodigal son did not have his head filled with the warped reasoning of social media friends, and could at least return to his father without that additional pressure. That is a luxury modern young adults do not have in this day and age of perpetual victimhood. This also explains why so many parents of estranged adult children today feel so isolated . That said, although the story is two thousand years old, no doubt the prodigal son's father felt this too. 

The father in the parable would have felt embarrassment at the situation. A family rift is an open sore that everyone can see and is rarely hidden from prying eyes or gossipers. For sure, he could not change his son's feelings and neither does he appear to have had any desire to. But he did have a choice to support his son fulfil his ambitions by giving him the money he was asking for, or else to refuse him it. Either way, I suspect the prodigal son would have left anyway. With his father's help at least he stood a chance of survival in the hard world.

Tellingly, it is implied the advanced inheritance placed his father under distress, since his "property was devoured" with profligacy. What the prodigal son regarded as his birth-right was the property of his father until such time as he died.

When the younger son left him, to whom did his father turn? We simply do not know - and are not told - what emotional turmoil he endured, or how this darkened his relationship with his older son. What we do know is that the father almost certainly felt loss, fear, sadness, grief, frustration, regret, and no doubt shame. And indeed, these are all very human emotions and perfectly natural emotional responses.  

We may, however, notice something else concealed within the parable. This is the father's acceptance of the situation. He pays his son the money, yet knows he may never see him again. Yet like all good and loving fathers he wants his child to have a happy and fulfilled life. The father puts his son's wishes before his own. Recognising that he had no control over his son's decision to leave permitted the father to find acceptance. The grief became normal from that moment on. He learned to live with it, and let go of the vision he once had for his child's future. Only with acceptance could he find a sense of peace.

So it is with God, who accepts the decisions men make to turn away from him. Does the Maker of Worlds exist in a state of bitterness and anger about this? No, he does not.  But he certainly chooses to patiently await the return of all his estranged adult children. However horribly we may behave and deserve to suffer the consequences of our actions, the Creator never loses hope of our return and the fulfilment of his vision for us. This is only made possible because God accepts our decisions and is reconciled with them. 

                                     Author selling Books on Rosicrucianism and Books on Secret Traditions


This article is the copyright (c) of M.R. Osborne, 2022