Thursday, July 1st, 2010
Nearly everybody who hears the word “prodigal” associates it with this story, and specifically, with the deplorable actions of the runaway
brother. In our early drafts of the project, we chose to stay clear of the word, using it once or twice only. Sensing that it’s been greatly overused and misunderstood, we perceived a bias which causes people to see the one brother as right and the other brother as wrong, depending on who they relate most to.
Prodigal has a richer meaning than a “bad boy who squanders his family’s wealth.” Its dictionary meaning – “wastefully extravagant” – is paradoxical in its positivity, which has led some scholars to don this “the parable of the prodigal father.”
Scholars can say what they will, but in the real world where the story is often leveraged with a purpose, the word prodigal tends to be almost exclusively used to describe people who wander from the fold for bad reasons. This led us to wonder whether the younger son type was getting a bad rap because of the dominance of the elder son type in religious circles – ourselves included!
During one of our writing retreats, we had a “no, duh” realization that anybody else in the world setting this story to music would use the word “prodigal”. So why were we avoiding it? Well, at first glance we’re both elder brothers by type – responsible family men, upstanding citizens in our community, and dutiful law-abiders. We had to acknowledge that we ourselves were holding the very bias we were trying to unmask. Don’t you love that?