The younger son finally “came to himself’ and decided to return home. For centuries this phrase has been interpreted to mean “he repented.” But did he? In his soliloquy in the far country he expressed no remorse, only a desire to eat. He did not say “I shamed my family” or “I caused my father deep pain and anguish.” He doesn’t even voice regret that he lost the money. While talking to himself he thinks, in effect, Others eat while I am hungry. I must do something. Some Arabic versions have translated it as “he got smart.” For 1,800 years Arabic and Syriac versions have never used language in this text that implies repentance.

His problem is that he had lost the money among the Gentiles and knew that he would be confronted with the Kezazab ceremony on his return home. Restoration to the family and community was only possible, (he assumed) after he paid back the money he had lost. But he had no marketable skills. Hence his plan to seek job training so that he could join the work force. Only then could he save his money (like other craftsmen), compensate for his losses and one clay again take his place in the family and community.

But to be accepted as an apprentice with a craftsman he would need his father’s backing. The game plan therefore was to make a “very humble speech” that would (he hoped) convince his father to back him-just once more!

Sadly, the prodigal does not yet understand the nature of his sin. He thinks the issue is the lost money. It isn’t! It is the father’s broken heart. The problem is not the broken law but the broken relationship. If he is a servant, he can get a job, earn the money and pay his debts. But if he is a son of the house, such a solution will not satisfy his father. As yet he understands none of this. Hence the nature of his proposed “confession.” — The Cross & the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants (Kenneth E. Bailey)