Punishment and the Prodigal Son
In American Society today, there exists a feeling that those who have transgressed, whether against individuals, family members, or society at large, need to be held responsible for their actions. The more severe the transgression, the more severe the punishment. It is not unheard of in these times, for example, that a parent may let his or her child spend a few nights in jail in order to "teach them a lesson". Even if the child seems to understand the severity of his or her actions, and shows regret for these actions, punishment may still be dealt out in the name of "tough love". In The Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus seems to suggest that punishment is unnecessary for those who have redeemed themselves.
The two sons in this story represent several easily recognizable character traits still found in people to this day. The older son is a hard working, responsible, obedient man who expects that someday his discipline and sacrifice will pay off. Although not specifically mentioned in this short parable, it can be assumed that his share of his father's inheritance was squirreled away, to be prudently used only when needed. The younger son, in contrast, takes his half of the inheritance and squanders it with "riotous living" (Luke 15:13) and "living with harlots" (Luke 15:30). The younger son is reckless and brash, without a care for the consequences, and soon discovers the fate that befalls such irresponsible behavior, returning home destitute. Jesus, through this parable, challenges us to consider the correct response to the prodigal son.
With today's morals and sense of responsibility, the elder son would be heralded as the "ideal son" -- someone who is frugal, reliable, and stable. The younger son, however, might be called the "black sheep" of the family -- tolerated because of bloodlines, easily dismissed, and held up as a bad example to the younger members of the family. The younger son would not be easily re-accepted by his family without first paying some kind of penance,...