Prodigal Pirates

Ive been reading Kester Brewin‘s latest work of brilliance on Pirates (Mutiny! Why We Love Pirates and How They Can Save Us). So far, it is a most excellent read, one I highly recommend, and I have been seriously blown away at the depth of thought and the relevance to the church today provided by Brewin. The research and history laid out by Brewin on pirates informs the reader in such a way that when it comes time to gather all of the streams of thoughts (economics, politics, culture, media, religion, etc) together, it’s as though the scales fall off our eyes and we can see the relevance of Pirates to us today.
Perhaps the most challenging piece for me has been his “dark” reading on the parable of the prodigal son. Though initially hesitant to agree, i decided to open myself to the possibility of more here. Brewin’s argument is that the tale of the prodigal son is a cautionary tale of the failure of the young son to “turn pirate” and this return to the lush and lavish life of the “empire” signifying his ultimate failings . While I can see this reading as informing, perhaps the “light” reading has for so long prevailed in my knowing of scriptures that it deeply disturbed me to see this as anything but a story of grace. That the father in the story “watched every day, worried about the ideas he might come back with, concerned that his other son’s head might also be turned.” stretches the limits of my own reading of this.

If the prodigal son’s story is one of failure, yet Odysseus’s story is one of success, with Telemachus’ restoration of his father, I venture that something has been overlooked here.

Homer wrote, “with those words Odysseus kissed his son And tears streamed down his cheeks and wet the ground, Though before he’d always reigned his emotions back.”

Holding this passage from The Odyssey as an act of transformation and restoration, then perhaps reading the tale of the prodigal son again, we might see the same transformation and restoration taking place.

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him hugged him, and kissed him. Luke 15:20

How does this in any way signify change? This from the commentary on this parable from Kenneth Bailey, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem-

‘’The prodigal son is on his way back home! What can he expect from the people of the village? They will mock him, laugh at him, scorn him. The children will throw stones at him or spit at him. Some will turn their backs. This young man who brought so much shame on his family will never again find his place in the village. But suddenly the people of the village see something totally unexpected. The father who was so scorned by his younger son, does something himself that will make him a laughingstock. He picks up his garment and runs! He is making a fool of himself. That is unheard of for a man his age in that culture. Now the children will mock him, too! And so these two, father and son, come together, both objects of scorn, back into the village. The father was willing to sacrifice his own honor, so that his son would not have to come home alone in disgrace.’’

Not only this, but we are given other clues as to the fathers transformation, through the father’s conversation with the older son.

Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in, but his father came out and begged him. He answered his father, ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.

This son is horrified at the decadent waste being poured upon this mutineer. Not only is it poor taste, having shamed himself in front of the entire community, now the father is wasting his hard earned money, his prized heifer on a Pirate! The father, who had for so many years shrewdly managed his estate, wasting nothing, even a goat for his eldest son’s loyalty, has now spent everything. Half of his estate gone with the youngest’s liquidation, the eldest brother now perceives a quite frightening change in his father, one that threatens his own inheritance. This once hardened capitalist and esteemed society man has now, himself, mutinied, and that scares the shit out of the eldest son.

This, then makes sense of the following stories of Jesus, that call for dispersal of wealth, saying we “cannot serve God and wealth”.

Perhaps Brewin’s “dark” reading on this tale is correct, however, it could be argued it is a story of success rather than a cautionary tale.


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