The Prodigal Son – The Missing Verses

shutterstock_180038786In a recent ‘behavioural’ review of the biblical tale, the Prodigal Son, I was finally able assuage my usual annoyance with the counter-intuitive reaction of the title character’s father to the boy’s return. I understood the wisdom of the father’s action for his own personal well-being, but the parable still irritated a little. This is because, as a father, I struggled to imagine myself being able suppress the urge to scold the child for having squandered half of the family wealth. The expression “I told you so” would probably have rolled more easily off the tongue than “kill the fattened calf for a feast.” It was only after reviewing the episode for a second time that I realised my hasty conclusion was mostly due to the way the story was told.

Although it is crammed into just 22 Bible verses, the tale obviously unfolds over many years. During that time, the father has probably gone through every imaginable sentiment, from anger to despair. The reader is spared the long mourning period the father must have endured in order to be able to view his missing son in this new light. For instance, two verses of the chapter are dedicated to the joy the father experienced upon the prodigal’s return, but not a single word is shared to describe the pain the man suffered following the boy’s departure. As psychologists know, people are loss averse: the average person perceives losses twice as heavily as gains of the same magnitude. This means that to correctly represent the father’s state of mind, at least four verses should have dealt with his initial heartbreak. Luke 15:11 has a few verses missing.

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