I was telling my five year old the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) over the weekend. It's a good choice of story for him; he's the eldest of two sons. At the end of the story he asked a great question.
"What did the older brother do next?"
Like a lot of parables this one poses a challenge of unfinished detail to the audience. The Good Samaritan challenges the hearer to be a good neighbour, for example. The Prodigal Son parable challenges the audience on how they will react to the penitent sinner. Will they pout about the unfairness of God or will they join the celebration for someone else's salvation? After all, the eldest son has been good and obedient and probably has the right to refuse the younger son any welcome.
For those wondering what I said next, I asked my son what he thought the older son would do. He said that the older son would try to get the younger son into timeout and tell the dad about it. So I asked what the son should do. He said that he should not try for the timeout and should join in the party to welcome the younger son home.
In other words he got it. Even a five year old understands the message of this parable. No theological training required because the story had immediate relevance to him. I'm not sure I'd expect the same about some other parables. :)
The next question he asked was a doozy. He did what good expositors will do and ask about who was not there.
"Did they have a mum? What was she doing?"
Thinking about who's conspicuously absent is part of close reading and I feel like a caveman for not seeing this before. In the story of Esau and Jacob, Rebekah was the voice in Jacob's ear, guiding him about how to get the greater inheritance. Could there have been a mother who did the same? Or was the mother in as much anguish and joy as the father, sharing the turmoil of parenting? Perhaps she organised the feast for the younger son's return. Jesus didn't include her in the story but we can meditate on it and wonder what we would do as the mother of these boys.
Parables that need no explanation. An absent mother. Kindy theology is a beautiful thing.