The family was a mess.  The father was spineless and indulgent.  The older brother was mean and self-righteous.  The younger brother was a fool and preyed on women. They all lived together for a while.  And then the younger brother rebelled, left home, and took a chunk of the family fortune with him.  He was gone just long enough to waste everything he had… at which time he then schemed that his best option would be to go home and bamboozle the old man out of more. 

It’s guys like these who give men a bad reputation.  And I offer this story, more commonly known as “The Prodigal Son,” as my Mother’s Day gift to you—with the observation that there are no women in the story:  no mother, no grandmother, no sisters, no aunts…  It’s just a bunch of guys, not too smart, like you might find in a stereotypical frat house:  a home with no women.  Maybe we should call it “The Parable of the Foolish Frat House.”

Now don’t get me wrong.  Women are perfectly capable of messing up a home too.  Eve and Sarah and Rebecca (Book of Genesis) were certainly NOT easy to live with.  And there are biblical stories where a home is made unpleasant by too many women:  Abraham, usually known for his wisdom, went bonkers when his wife and mistress couldn’t seem to get along with each other.  Rachel and Leah forced enslaved females into becoming breeding women.  And Solomon, despite having an abundance of women in his household (700 wives and 300 concubines) didn’t learn enough from any of them to become as wise as his reputation.  Even the Virgin Mary got on her son’s nerves—I’m thinking of the time she showed up at one of his events with the entire family in tow and Jesus pretended he didn’t know her.  (Gospel of Mark)

And yet… I can’t help but think that the Parable of the Foolish Frat House would have gone much better if it had been graced by some of the women who have graced my life… and the homes where I have lived.

Had my own mother been in the mix of that parable, she would have brought a cooler head, some rationality, and an insistence that everyone slow down and think things through more carefully.  She also would have cried about what was happening, a very rational and humane thing to do under the circumstances.  Why is there no crying in this parable?

Had Jie been in the parable there would have been more laughter, less taking yourself so seriously.  She would have insisted on more honor for the parents.  She would have made the younger son show receipts for all the money he took and then pay back all he wasted.  She would have found a way to humble the older brother.  And she would have insisted on serving fish instead of a whole fatted calf… healthier.  

My Aunt Norma would have seen multiple flaws in the situation and simply taken charge herself.  My Aunt Betty would have had something to say because even though she was someone who never did a scandalous thing in her life, she also never labeled anyone a scoundrel just for going off the rails now and then.  

My three daughters would have made sure that their sensible and rational voices were heard.  And they would have prepared the feast themselves, and they are great cooks, but they wouldn’t let you eat until you straightened up.

My Grandma Haworth, ever the teacher, would have insisted on more discipline and less selfishness.  My Grandma Smith, always giving you the news about everyone in the extended family, whether you knew them or not, would have reminded the guys that everyone was related, whether they wanted to be or not.

My friends, the sisters at Holy Wisdom Monastery, would have insisted that a family is a community, and communities live by paradoxical rules: rules of grace and expectation, rules of hospitality and obedience, rules of justice and mercy. They would have handled the boys in this parable like I’ve seen them handle Catholic bishops.

People often read the parable of the prodigal son as an allegory:  the father represents God, the younger brother represents all those immoral people who have left the church, and the older brother represents all the hypocrites that stayed in the church.  But such allegories abort the rich personalities that Jesus births in this parable.  The allegories fail to point out the systemic dysfunctions of this family.  

In the actual story Jesus told, the father really is foolish and naïve.  The older brother really is a jerk.  The younger brother really is a playboy.  This family really is hopeless… unless God sends a bit of a miracle.  And in my experience, that miracle so often turns out to be the right woman coming along, gracing a home, strengthening the heart, sharpening the mind, and resurrecting the community.

To all the women in my life, Happy Mother’s Day.  Boy do we need you!