We all love the story of the Prodigal Son, but we probably don’t get the point Jesus was making with his great parable. To get the point that Jesus was making, we need to take a trip thirty-three hundred years back in Bible history.
Back, when the Israelites were just twelve wandering tribes, Moses sent surveyors into the Promised Land, commissioning them to divide all the land into twelve sections of near equal value. Next he called in the leaders of each of the twelve tribes, and then sat them down to draw lots.
The leader of the tribe of Judah drew a deed to the southern land between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean. The leader of the tribe of Benjamin drew the deed to the land just north of that. Page 221 of our Catholic “New American Bible” supplies us with the whole map of how the land was divided.
After the leaders of the twelve tribes had a hold on the fixed boarders of what was coming to his tribe, he called in the heads of all the families in his tribe. Then, he had them draw lots to see what section of the tribal land would belong to each of their families forever. None of them would ever be allowed to sell or trade away the section that came to him.
The way that inheritances worked within families was that when a man was passing from his maturity, he had to divide his holdings into as many plots as the number of his sons, and one plot more, letting the oldest son receiving two plots, called his birth-right. .
Each son was given the complete management of his plot. He could experiment with different crops and different ways of farming; but he was not free to sell any of the plot assigned him; since, it belonged to his family and his tribe from the time of Moses.
In the twenty-four years when I was teaching junior high in our Catholic school I often had kids raise hands with interesting questions and statements. One provocative girl raised her hand to assert, “I don’t like you people telling me what I should do with my life. After all, it is my life to do what I want with.”
But, the Bible disagrees with her on that. In Chapter Fourteen of his Letter to the Romans Paul reminded us that no one is his own master. While we live we are responsible to the Lord, when we die, we die as his servants; both in life and in death, we are the Lord’s.