Have you ever wondered what happened in the household of the prodigal son after the party was over? The father has accepted him home, restored him to his place in the household, the family and his community and a celebration was held. But then what? Did the son retain his humility or did he slip all too readily into his old habits of laziness, selfishness, arrogance and short-sightedness? Did the older brother start acting up in order to prove that he too was a treasured son who could get away with murder and still be accepted home? The fortunes of the family would be reduced from what it once was, now that the younger son had sold off his portion. (If I’m not mistaken, his portion would have been 1/3 of the estate – the older brother being entitled to double the portion of the younger.) When the family felt the pinch, did they struggle not to be resentful towards the one who put them into such a situation? Did signs of the same flaws and faults that had led to his son’s outrageous behavior send the father into fits? Did the older and younger brother fight like cats and dogs or retreat into chilly silence? Did they react to the inevitable insults and gossip of neighbors who knew of his unthinkable sins and dereliction of duty by becoming the town toughs – always ready for a fight to defend themselves and their family’s honor. Did the son ever give his father reason to wish that he had remained lost for all the trouble he caused?
Or maybe the son set about making right what he had destroyed. Perhaps he threw himself into the family business in order to recover what had been lost. Perhaps he began cultivating virtues he had rejected up til then. Perhaps he was gracious and patient in the face of his brother’s anger. Perhaps he was solicitous towards his father, eager to relieve his fears and return the great grace that had been shown to him. Perhaps he became a servant to all, ready to accept insults and gossipy whispers from the neighbors without flinching, knowing he earned them. Perhaps he became a treasured member of his community for his grace, good behavior, care for those in need and hard-found wisdom.
It’s hard to guess what would have happened once the party was over. Maybe some combination of the good and the bad, just the way life usually is. But the story didn’t really end with the party. That was just the beginning, non?