Brian J. PIERCE. Jesus and the Prodigal Son: The God of Radical Mercy. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2016. pp. 212. $25 pb. Reviewed by Lily KING, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL 33620.
In Jesus and the Prodigal Son: The God of Radical Mercy, Brian Pierce delivers an honest, scandalous and beautiful analysis of one of Christianity’s most beloved parables. It is evident that Pierce has spent many years ruminating on this passage and as a result has dared to challenge the traditional, safe interpretation: we, human beings, are just like the prodigal son. We return to our heavenly Father and are forgiven despite our persistence to squander everything we have been given. This seems almost intuitive; however, Pierce wonders if Jesus himself be understood as the prodigal son?
At first, this suggestion may raise eyebrows. “But…how could a sinful and disobedient son serve as an allegory for God incarnate?” one might ask. However, Pierce substantiates this interpretation with gripping corollaries between Christ and the prodigal son, which are surely motivated by an attempt to refocus and reestablish Jesus’ identification with those on the margins. For it is Jesus, Pierce argues, that journeys to a foreign land to fraternize and dine with sinners. It is Jesus that leaves the safe haven of his Abba to enter into a world of ugliness and sin. It is Jesus who was dead and is alive again.
Surely, this text serves as a call to action. As Pierce artfully depicts this image of the prodigal Christ, he aims not merely to inform but to inspire. If Christ is the prodigal son, intentionally moving outside the Father’s embrace and entering into a strange land, we as Christians must also be willing to purposefully move toward the “other.” We must “see” the man on the street. We cannot rush by him with cold indifference, nor can we love him from afar. We must be close to a man to see him, Pierce contends. We must take the time to sit with him and hear his story. Pierce does not simply utter these words, but skillfully personifies them with his own life experiences and so, it is difficult to remain unscathed as one flips through the pages.
As one might presume from this brief synopsis, this text would make an excellent accompaniment to and undergraduate course on social justice or an introduction to New Testament. However, I believe this book is accessible enough to engage the church at large and be positively impactful on Her. Pierce’s message is surely one our contemporary society needs to hear, considering we are disposed to mere self-preservation, often without care or concern to “see” the other. Although some readers may be cautious to enter Pierce’s thought experiment, they should remember his insights are in no way intended to usurp the traditional interpretation, but to offer an alternative that is spiritually edifying—as Pierce himself claims, “No single interpretation can exhaust a parable’s potential” (pg. xiv). By venturing to pursue this unconventional understanding, Pierce reminds us that the font of wisdom which flows from the scriptures is inexhaustible and God’s mercy is wonderfully radical.