Elsina's son had immigrated temporarily to the United States looking for better work and a better life and returned after a few months, broke and broken. I asked how they thought the prodigal son got to the far-away land. "On the back of a train, "they half-joked, "or inside a rail car or in the back of a pickup hiding under a pile of corn, or in an underground tunnel at the border." I asked what happened on the journey. Did he have adventures? "Not adventures, exactly, but he almost died for lack of water in the desert, and if it had been the prodigal daughter she would surely have been raped by her "coyote" the person whom she had paid for her safe passage." If he knew all this why did he go? I wondered, "And, why didn't you, the parents try to stop him?" Well, maybe the father's inheritance wasn't that great. Maybe the land wasn't producing like it used to because they hadn't been educated to use good land management practices, or because those practices sometimes cost more. Maybe he was at risk of violence where he was, or he saw that at times there wasn't enough to for all the family to eat. Maybe there were no other options that he could see, for education or a better life. Maybe he went thinking he could help his family out. Maybe his parents knew all this, too, and couldn't really offer good reasons for him to stay. We're way too hard on the prodigal, they insisted, and the far-away land is way too hard on him too.
Why did the parents of the prodigal have a party when their son returned? I asked. "What was there to celebrate if he returned with nothing, having spent his inheritance? Wasn't the other brother right in being angry?" "Oh, no," they assured me. "He had suffered enough and his parents celebrated but they were crying inside, crying with happiness that he was back, crying and suffering with him because he felt such a failure. Sometimes, they said, you dance to keep away the tears."
Holy God: Be with those today who are dancing away tears, those that are suffering for their children, and those that are with such limited choices that they risk all. Teach us compassion and love for the others among us. Amen.
Bruce and Linda Hanson
Bruce and Linda Hanson are assigned to the Christian Commission on Development (CCD) to serve the Honduran Theological Community (CTH). Bruce is teaching HIV/AIDS education, prevention and care, while Linda is teaching theological courses.