Parable of the Prodigal Nation by Tom Graves

Written at A Time of Protest and Riots

          There were people living in their homeland of Europe, Asia, South America, Central America, and Africa who raised a loud cry to their God. Give us a new land where we may prosper, give us a new place where we can be free, give us a new country that we can call our own. Oh God, give us the right portion of our earthly inheritance. Oh God, give us hope that we might have a future for ourselves.

          And so the new land of America was opened for settlement, given as an inheritance to the disinherited of the world, as a hope to the hopeless, as a home to the homeless, as wealth to the poor, and as security to the defenseless.

          The people journeyed to the new country and gladly received their inheritance hoping to establish a future for themselves. The inheritance was indeed bountiful. For there in America was enough lush farmland to feed an entire nation with much to spare. There in America were enough mineral resources to fuel the fires of industry supplying a surplus of manufactured goods of every sort. There in America was a hospitable terrain and agreeable climate as if Eden itself had come again. Setting out with their new inheritance the people lacked nothing in terms of material wealth and natural blessing. Every possibility was within their grasp.

Tragically and forever a blot upon the nation, almost all the people coming from Africa were enslaved, simply a commodity used by others to build the nation’s wealth. Their strength and their skill made possible a thriving culture of wealth and beauty. Yet from the very beginning they were devalued, mistreated, tortured, and treated inhumanely. In many ways the greatness of the American nation was built on the backs of its African slaves. Even when emancipation came for them, the mistreatment, abuse, debasement, and killing did not end. While the sin of slavery and racism remained at the very core of the American nation, it continued to build its economic strength and military might.

The people coming to America took their bounteous inheritance and built the greatest nation on earth. Yet often the people squandered their inheritance in their greed, racism, ethical blindness, cruelty, and immorality. Out of their immense inheritance they built a bankrupt nation. Though given a precious gift, they threw it away.

The glorious land was now scarred by the bleeding sores of very rich cities filled with growing pockets of impoverished citizens, large numbers who were homeless, many children who were malnourished, and so many who had no access to decent medical care. In a frightful way the bountiful land was degrading its own atmosphere with an un-ending dependence on carbon-based fuels. They were destroying the air their grandchildren would need to survive. The vast wealth of the new land was squandered on the senseless living of a few, while so many remained in want. The freedom of the new land was used to develop a culture centered on aggressive self-assertion by persons interested only in advancing their own financial gain. The freedom of the new land was used to promote a society foreign to the ideals of love, justice, and righteousness.

This once great hope of humankind now produced the grossest expression of immorality possible. Given freedom, the citizens chose to hate. Given freedom the citizens chose to keep others in bondage. Given freedom the citizens chose to enslave themselves to drugs, violence, hatred, sexuality, and materialism. Once with hopes of a holy kingdom on earth, the people now wallowed with the swine – happy just to get by and pleased just to own more things to satisfy themselves. The inheritance had been wasted. What could have been was not. The dream was becoming a chaotic nightmare.

Then looking around some of the people began to realize their plight. They saw their riotous misery and they woke up to the horror of what they had created. They began to see how they wasted their potential. They saw their cruelty and their immorality. They realized they had abused others and they came to understand their blindness, never recognizing the humanity and worth of all persons. They had wasted the inheritance of their land’s natural bounty and their country’s amazing freedom. And the prayer went up: “Oh God, we have sinned against heaven and before you; we are no longer worthy to be called your children. But God, we want to come home. We desperately need to come home.”

It is true. We need to come home and forsake our blatantly racist actions as well as our hidden habits of genteel prejudice. We need to come home and forsake our moral blindness that continues to ignore problems right on our doorstep. We need to come home and forsake our superficial religion that sees spiritual life as unrelated to justice and righteousness in our society.

What would be God’s response to our prayer and our desire to come home?


From Isaiah 1:7,15-20 we read these words from the Lord:


Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire…

When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you;

even though you make many prayers, I will not listen;

your hands are full of blood.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;

remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes;

cease to do evil, learn to do good;

seek justice, rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan, plead for the widow.…

Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow;

though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;

but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword;

for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.