The idea for this painting is from a book by Frederick Buechner. I’m going to directly quote from his book, “Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy & Fairy Tale.”
“The Prodigal Son goes off with his inheritance and blows the whole pile on liquor and sex and fancy clothes until finally he doesn’t have two cents left to rub together and has to go to work or starve to death. He gets a job on a pig farm and keeps at it long enough to observe that the pigs are getting a better deal than he is and then decides to go home. There is nothing edifying about his decision.
There is no indication that he realizes he’s made an ass of himself and broken his old man’s heart, no indication that he thinks of his old man as anything more than a meal ticket. There is no sign that he is sorry for what he’s done or that he’s resolved to make amends somehow and do better next time. He decides to go home for the simple reason that he knows he always got three squares a day at home, and for a man who is in danger of starving to death, that is reason enough. So he sets out on the return trip and on the way rehearses the speech he hopes will soften the old man’s heart enough so that at least he won’t slam the door in his face.
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ That will hit him where he lives if anything will, the boy thinks and he goes over it again. ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’ (Luke 15:18-19), trying to get the inflection right and the gestures right; and just about the time he thinks he has it down, the old man spots him coming around the corner below the tennis court and starts sprinting down the drive like a maniac. Before the boy has time to get so much as the first word out, the old man throws his arms around him and all but knocks him off his feet with the tears and whiskers and incredulous laughter of his welcome.
“The boy is back, that’s all that matters. Who cares why he’s back? And the old man doesn’t do what any other father under heaven would have been inclined to do. He doesn’t say he hopes he has learned his lesson or I told you so. He doesn’t say he hopes he is finally ready to settle down for a while and will find some way to make it up to his mother. He just says, ‘Bring him something to eat, for God’s sake. Bring him some warm clothes to put on,’ and when the boy finally manages to slip his prepared remarks in edgewise what old man doesn’t even hear them he’s in such a state. All he can say is the boy was dead and is alive again.
The boy was lost and is found again, and then at the end of the scene what Jesus as teller of the parable says is ‘They began to make merry’ (Luke 15:23). Merry, of all things. They turn on the stereo. They break out the best Scotch. They roll back the living room carpet and ring up the neighbors.”