The father gave the son his share of the ‘bios’, that is, everything necessary for life. (Listen.)
Maybe what follows is not quite the story Jesus tells, but maybe it contains something useful and true. So gather round and listen carefully, but remember: this is just a story.
Once upon a time, in the time beyond time, the Creator Spirit had two children. Now, the First One observed the Creator’s handiwork and learned all the stories and integrated the lore. They learned that following the lore kept the land fertile (Deut. 11:13-17). They saw that “For everything there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to harvest; … a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance …” (Eccl. 3:1-4, excerpts). They saw that there were times of feasting and times of fasting; times of plenty and times of famine, but that when people shared what little they had, everyone got just enough. The First One took all this very seriously, and lived accordingly.
The Second One was different. The Second One was like a little caterpillar: he was always hungry. And his hunger was insistent, insatiable: no matter what he ate, he was never satisfied, not even on a Sunday.
One day, the Second One went to the Creator Spirit and demanded a share of the property. What they all held in common, the Second One asked to fence off and carve up and privately own. Maybe he thought he would sate his hunger this way; who knows? Anyway, the Second One asked and the Creator Spirit was wise. Because she knew: sometimes, a kid just has to learn by doing. So the Creator Spirit divided the property and gave the Second One their share of the bios: that is, all that is needed to sustain life.
On the first day, the Second One was given light and dark: light to be awake to, to work, and read, and play; and dark to sleep safely through and for the blessings of dreams and shadows: but he was still hungry.
On the second day, the Second One was given the waters and the sky. Pure clean air swirled above oceans sharp and salt and crystal clear; clouds banked up on the horizon, or scudded in little drifts through the sky: but he was still hungry.
On the third day, the Second One was given fertile land and vegetation. In the forests, vast Mother Trees fed their daughters, and different species spoke to each other through intricate fungal networks and helped each other grow. Orchards sprang up, bejewelled with fruit; seed crops emerged, heavy with grain. Logs were carpeted with deep green mosses and everything pulsed with life: but he was still hungry.
On the fourth day, the Second One was given lights in the sky: a great light by day to warm the earth and help plants grow; a smaller light by night to move the tides; and countless stars for wayfinding through every season: but he was still hungry.
On the fifth day, the Second One was given schools of mullet to swim through the bay, and long dark kooyang to leap up the falls. Flocks of corellas caroused through the sky and yellow tailed black cockatoos called out. Spotted pardalotes filled the karrang, and cormorants perched, airing their wings. The waters and skies were filled with life: but he was still hungry.
On the sixth day, the Second One was given cattle and creeping things and wild animals of every kind: koorrayn and dingoes and honey ants and weengkeel; koorramook and rock wallabies; little skinks and bandicoots: but he was still hungry.
And in all that giving, there were other gifts of course: fire for burning and stones for building and friends for companionship and children for joy, in fact, everything needed to sustain life: but he was still hungry.
On the seventh day, a Sunday, the Second One was given rest: but he refused this gift. For his hunger drove him. He was hungry for mangoes in winter and for red meat at every meal. He was hungry for silver and gold and things made with rare earth metals: mobile phones and laptops and hybrid cars. He was hungry for a big house, for convenience, for a new TV. He was hungry for fashion; hungry for air travel; hungry for status; hungry for dividends; he was endlessly, insatiably, ravenously hungry.
And so the Second One refused the gift of rest. Instead, he squandered the bios, the things necessary to sustain life. He blew up mountains to find iron ore; he dug holes to extract diamonds and gold. He poisoned rivers with mine tailings and agricultural waste, and he filled the oceans with plastic. He burned fossil fuels to do everything faster; he pumped carbon and soot into the air. He fracked fertile land; he built leaking pipelines through delicate ecosystems; he crashed oil tankers into coral reefs. He pushed the boundaries of his cities and towns beyond all limits, and his endless appetite for cheap meat brought deadly new pathogens into the human world.
And as he ate and ate and ate, he left nothing for his children, and nothing for the poor; indeed, nothing for anybody else.
The Second One’s actions affected the First One. For when his own land was used up and his own rivers poisoned and his own children hungry, the Second One—the very one who had demanded private property and fences and an end to the commons—invaded the First One’s land, and did it all over again.
And since the lore was not being followed, the earth groaned and the seasons went out of sync. Times for birth and death were disrupted, and so too times for planting and harvest. Times for dancing were tainted by constant grief. Rain bombs washed away big houses and flat screen TV’s and SUV’s and fertile soil: indeed, everything in sight. Firestorms roared in, flattening forests and homes. Heat piled up and melted ice, and ocean waters roared in, turning fresh water salt. Pandemics ripped through populations; wild plants and animals disappeared.
At last, when his domestic animals died and his crops failed and there was nothing edible to buy, the Second One discovered true hunger. Not the hunger for money and things, but deep hollow-bellied desperation for bread. His tummy grinding on emptiness, he finally looked hard at the system he had hired himself out to, and the pigsty he had made for himself. He was so hungry, he would have eaten from the pig bucket, but in this economy, this way he had lived without justice or generosity or mercy or love, nothing was for free and “no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:16).
Gutted by hunger and loneliness and desperation and mess, eventually he came to himself. He said, “Even my mother’s hired hands have more than enough, but I’m here dying of hunger! I’ll get up and go home, and confess that I have sinned. For I have lived against the lore of heaven; I’ve damaged right relationship with my mother, the Creator Spirit, and with all of her children. I’m no longer fit to be called a son, but I’ll ask to be treated like a servant.”
And so he stood up, and he turned, and he began the long walk home.
“But while he was still far off, his mother saw him! Her guts wrenched with compassion; she ran; she threw her arms around him; and she kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)
And that’s the end of the story. Ω
- How does this telling comfort, challenge, shock or inspire you?
- Which character do you usually identify with? Which character do you identify with in this telling?
- Do you think this is a fair or helpful retelling of the story? Is it impertinent, offensive or self-serving for a white person from a predominantly white congregation to tell it this way?
- “If you’re not offended by the gospel, then you’re not paying attention!” Often, white middle class Christians implicitly understand grace as the shocking idea that ‘those other people’ might receive it, too. Can we acknowledge that the grace extended to Second Peoples might cause offense?
- What would it look like for Second Peoples to walk in the direction of the loving, life-giving Spirit?
A reflection on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 by Alison Sampson given to Sanctuary on 27 March 2022 (Year C Lent 4) © Sanctuary 2022. Photo by Chris LeBoutillier on Unsplash. Thanks to Joel for first pointing out to us that the father gave the son not money but ‘bios’ (here). A shout out to Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar for appropriating the line, “but he was still hungry.” I think I first read about the windigo in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s superb book, Braiding Sweetgrass. Read more about the windigo in The Canadian Encyclopedia (here); it’s a story for our times.
Gunditjmara language collected by Joel Wright and recorded here. Koorrayn: kangaroo. Koorramook: Possum. Weengkeel: Koala. Karrang: Gum tree. Kooyang: eel. Sanctuary acknowledges that it gathers on Peek Wurrung country of the Eastern Maar Nation, that this is stolen land, and that sovereignty has never been ceded.
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