It’s not that far to the “far country”

Sea of Galilee shoreline horizontal

From the shoreline of Capernaum, where Jesus likely told the parable of the prodigal, one can easily see the opposite shore of the Sea of Galilee. The lure of the forbidden for those who first this story was only a short boat ride away. (William Haun photo)

It may be the most famous story Jesus ever told.

A young man demands his inheritance early, his father grants his wish, and disaster soon follows. The boy took the money, went to a “far country,” and quickly lost everything. He lost the money, he lost his innocence, and worst of all, he lost his family. Waking up with the worst hangover of his life, the boy was absolutely certain he’d lost his chance to ever go home.

Desperately hungry, the “prodigal son” of Luke 15 finally found a job taking care of pigs.

The job paid so poorly, he still didn’t have enough to eat. When he hit bottom, he realized he was looking at the food the pigs ate and wondering how he could sneak a little for himself.

The boy was Jewish. Pork was forbidden. Becoming one with the pigs? It was unthinkable. Hell itself would have a hard time matching the punishment.

As parables go, this one must have gripped the attention of every Jewish person in Jesus’ audience. He had never painted so gruesome a picture. However, there’s one element of the story you may have never envisioned, and it has to do with that little phrase, “the far country.”

I’d always pictured this kid spending his first $100 on getting a passport, and the next $100 on a train ticket to some place half a world away. After all, isn’t that what a “far country” would be?

Not at all.

By the time Jesus told the story, Alexander the Great had already changed the landscape of the world. His Greek city-states had been planted throughout his empire, promoting a new educational philosophy, a new look at religion, and most strikingly, a new look at sexuality. Alexander didn’t force his way of life on the countries he captured. He simply built brand new cities within them, complete with theaters, gymnasiums, schools, and statues glorifying the human body.

For people who had never seen the first page of pornography, the naked statues and the anything-goes gymnasiums were a shocking contrast to the life of Orthodox Judaism.

And one of the largest of Alexander’s city states – the Decapolis – was within walking distance of the very place where Jesus told the story! The first of those 10 cities would have been visible on a clear day from the probable place where Jesus was telling the story. Had that era known neon lights, they might have seen the faint glow of a Vegas-styled strip every night.

It must have been the easiest sermon fodder the rabbis in the Galilee had ever known. Sabbath after Sabbath, they must have railed against the wickedness so close to their own homes. They condemned the places, the practices, and the people who lived there. It was all so foreign to the instruction of Torah, they also gave the Decapolis a new name.

They called it, “The Far Country.”

If he left in the early morning, the kid could have been carousing by nightfall.

If you know the story, the young man came to his senses, walked away from the pigsty, and came home to the surprise of his young life. His father wanted him! His dad had been watching for him, praying that he’d return home safely. The father called for a party, made arrangements for counseling for the older brother, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Or did they?

Truth is, consequences always follow choices. Though this is just a parable, consider what would have been true under real-life situations.

The money was gone. There would be no second inheritance. A relationship with a brother is damaged, the repercussions of which would never go away. The father had been embarrassed. The prodigal had also made some sexual choices that would haunt him for decades.

All because he couldn’t resist the urge to see what was happening in the all-too-close “far country.”

Forbidden territory for the prodigal son was as close as the nearest computer might be for you. Poor choices – and their consequences – are potentially waiting to be made in any work environment, in any family, and in any circle of friends.

Hear the ancient lesson from the prodigal son today. Visiting the wrong place, taking part in the wrong activity, being with the wrong people … is, in a word, simply wrong. So do this. Make a good choice today. Leave the Far Country as far away from your life as possible, where it should have been all along.