Was the Prodigal Son a Failed Act of Piracy?

This past weekend I did a book table for an event which was billed as “A Pirate, a Prophet and a Preacher.” (I may have the order wrong but all three were there.) The event hosted Kester Brewin (the pirate), Peter Rollins (the prophet) and Shane Hipps (the preacher). One of the great things about doing book tables is that it sometimes exposes me to thoughts and ideas I may not normally run into. This was definitely one of those kind of events. Each of the speakers took about 20 minutes to explain what they were doing in their ministries which was followed by a round-table discussion between them. Of the three the only one I’ve heard speak before was Peter Rollins. We had him in the store once and had a great turnout. I remember scrambling for more chairs as the people quickly outnumbered our prearranged seating.

The one thing during this night that caught my attention was Kester’s proposal that the prodigal son was actually an illustration of a failed attempt at piracy (piracy being a good thing). In his words he says it was “a failed act of piracy and an unsuccessful attempt to escape from and change the powerful draw of his father’s empire.” You can see a good review of the book here with a more complete description of the parable. The reviewer offers the following synopsis of the way Kester sees the parable:

“Kester imagines the son planning to distribute the family’s great wealth more fairly in order to correct the injustices of his father’s business model, or just of doing some useful work for a change—an “idealist wanting to step out from his privileged background, explore a wider world and do something more authentic”.

Unfortunately matters get out of hand. True to his ideals the son takes on the “honest labour” of feeding pigs, but in a time of famine he does not want to be a burden to others, so he decides to compromise. He will not live off his father’s riches again but will work as a servant. This will give him the opportunity to “show his father the error of his father’s ways, tell him about the hungry people that lay dying not so far away, and turn his father’s heart to compassion for them”.

In the meantime the father has been worrying that his son will turn up one day with dangerous ideas of redistributing what was left of the family’s wealth “in some ridiculous lefty scheme”. But as it turns out, the son is too tired and sore to resist his father’s sly blandishments and gives in, settling back into his old spoilt ways.

I was alive,’ the young man said to himself as he sat listening to his father toasting his return at the feast… ‘but now I am dead again.’

This seems to take the actions of piracy (whether good or bad) and reads it back into the parable. It ignores the historical and cultural context of the parable and turns the dubious actions of the son into noble acts. I’m not persuaded but remain grateful for the exposure to an alternative interpretation. You can find more of Kester’s piracy thinking in his book Mutiny.

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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