John Walker Lindh, aka the American Taliban, aka Johnny Jihad, made his first court appearance on January 24th in Alexandria, VA. Much has already been written about his privileged Marin County upbringing, his mother’s Buddhist beliefs, and his father’s dumping her to pursue a gay relationship.
Young John, it seems, was given leave to follow his heart, and ended up in an Afghan prison camp. Let us compare his situation with that of the prodigal son described by Jesus (Luke 15:11-32).
In the gospel parable, the younger of two sons asks his father for his share of the inheritance, not letting the small matter that his father is still alive deter him in his lust for the booty. Surprisingly, his father complies, and within days the boy is off, in search of that era’s equivalent of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.
Number two son burns through the cash, and, in desperation, must work as a swineherd, an occupation forbidden by Jewish law. He soon realizes that even his father’s hired hands have it better than this, so he returns home, asking only to be treated as a worker, not even as a member of the family.
His father is overcome with joy, and proclaims a grand celebration. Number one son is furious, citing his role as Mr. Goody Two Shoes. He reminds his father that the brother’s inheritance was spent on prostitutes (a detail otherwise unmentioned in the story), and that he, the good, loyal son was never appreciated in such a manner. The father responds–
“My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
While it should be noted that this story demonstrates the forgiveness of God the Father, and the self-righteousness of the Pharisaic older brother, who probably wouldn’t have minded a few nights with those prostitutes himself, our interest at the moment is in the younger son.
Like Lindh, he leaves home on the parents’ tab. Our parable boy is prodigal in that he blows his money. Lindh is prodigal in that he blows off his country. But there, the similarities end.
Lindh returns in custody, while parable boy does so willingly, albeit under duress, but as the story goes, he comes to his senses. More importantly, he returns home in a spirit of repentance. If the initial statements of his parents and attorneys are any indication, Lindh is returning in a spirit of denial.
Even though Lindh has already been treated with more mercy and compassion than he deserves–or would have shown to an American soldier–the older brother role is being well played by the attorneys, reflecting the blindness of the parents. In this case, the attacks are directed at the US Government, who must play the father role, only this father won’t be celebrating.
Too bad the real father didn’t play his role when he should have. Oh yes, Lindh is 100 percent responsible for his actions, but it is difficult to overlook the tragic effects of ruined families, whether in the ghettos of privilege or the ghettos of want.
At least parable boy had a father.