The “Prodigal Son”, can be paralleled to Flannery O’Connor’s “A Reasonable use of the Unreasonable,” because of the communal use of exaggeration to shock a secular culture into hearing and comprehending Christian ideas and beliefs. In both of these stories exaggeration is used in a nearly grotesque manner to stress important religious principles. Although the circumstances observed are clearly unreasonable, reasonableness becomes apparent when analyzed on the Divine level.
The “Prodigal Son” is a story of two brothers who are given money by their father, who on an allegorical level can be represented as God. The younger son, representative of publicans and sinners, moves away and squanders his inheritance. He uses it for immoral purposes and eventually finds himself in despair. At nadir, he is forced to eat with swine. This is particularly immoral, and contradicts Christian beliefs. The elder son, who can be seen as a representation for pharmacies and scribes, stays by his father’s side. He tends to the land and acts as a responsible human being. He is nothing but loyal and obedient to his father’s will.
When the younger son reaches the depths of despair, he decides to return home and beg his father’s forgiveness. Upon returning, his father “fell on his neck and kissed him.” The father ordered servants to “bring forth the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on him…and let (them) eat.” The elder son was completely flabbergasted by this response. He found it unfair that the younger son was being treated as though he had done no wrong.
On a literal level, this parable can be seen as completely irrational. The actions of the father are extreme and exaggerated. It is ridiculous for a careless and irresponsible person, such as the younger son, to return to a ceremonial reinstatement complete with robes and rings after living a life corrupt with sin and immoral behavior.
When analyzed on an allegorical/anagogical level, this parable can be seen as something more. The “Prodigal Son” shows that all people are equally worthy of God’s love. The father’s welcoming with open arms uses irrationality to show God’s unconditional love and acceptance. When applied to Christian beliefs, this is no longer seen as an unreasonable concept.
Like “A reasonable Use of the Unreasonable,” the parable of “The Prodigal Son” uses a grotesque sense of exaggeration to unveil reason behind absurdity. These stories must be applied to Christian mysteries and ideals to be wholly appreciated. Main ideas are not always literally apparent and commonly require scrutiny at a higher level to truly be enlightened on the level intended by the author.
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