My favourite Bible story

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I don’t like Bible stories. They’re just too old. I used to stop at 1954 but, having re-imagined Jim Dixon once too often, I’m moving the hands up the dial to keep a bit more up-to-date. I’m thinking 1988. It’s the Robin Robyn confusion that starts the story of the modern world. Nice work, if you get it.

I digress. I don’t like Bible stories. Except one or two. My favourite is definitely the one about the prodigal son. It’s a simple story: tear-away son runs off to the city and spends all his inheritance. Eventually, as they always do, he comes crawling back to Daddy, older, wiser, forlorn and chastened. Daddy opens his arms and flings open the gates; he kills the fatted calf and cracks open the ‘78 Burgundy. Disgruntled older brother looks on in thinly-disguised loathing and asks Dad what he thinks he is doing. That little toe-rag has spent all your money on wine, women and song and now he’s being rewarded – and then Dad delivers the killer line “this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” Rembrandt’s painting of the scene is one of the most moving of all Renaissance art. I look at it with tears in my heart. I like this story partly because, as an only child, there is a great relief in not having to worry about an older brother putting my parents right in their dotage, correcting their obvious stupidity.

I also like it because, although the message is supposed to be about the father representing an all-forgiving God, that’s not actually the story at all. The son’s return may be welcomed but his mistake can’t be wiped away and he’s going to pay for it for the rest of his life. Retribution and vengeance are always lurking around the corner, waiting to pounce. I’m watching someone standing on the edge of a precipice and gripping the edge of the seat. Life is so fragile.

It’s such a sad ending because there’s just nowhere to go; in youthful enthusiasm the son makes a stupid decision, the inevitable happens and his riches evaporate. The son returns, but – and here’s the problem – he’s no longer son and heir, now he’s just the son. You can just imagine the months going by, the older brother building up the family business, the prodigal son getting by on minimum wage. Older brother puts down a deposit on a house, younger brother continues living with Mum and Dad in his childhood bedroom. Older brother takes over the business, prodigal son works for him, in the warehouse now: they’re never going to be equals. The prodigal jumped. He might not have understood what he was doing, but after he’d done it there was just no going back. To begin with, the younger son would just have been relieved to be home but, as the months and years go by, the realisation that he threw away his future will nag at him until he is destroyed by self-loathing. The moral of the story isn’t “come home and all will be forgiven”; the moral is “don’t ever do anything that can’t be undone”.

Perhaps some politicians should think about the prodigal son when they negotiate Brexit. If it wasn’t going condemn us to economic penury and political obscurity I might not mind quite as much, but we are rapidly getting to the point where the other 27 are going to exact a high price for our inevitable volte-face.

Theresa May might be thinking that it would have been more sensible not to enact Article 50 until after she’d established the price for leaving. But she started the clock and now there’s no turning back. There is more than a little schadenfreude across the EU, as well as many clock-watchers, counting down the two years and rubbing their hands in glee.

The problem is that Britain jumped and we are no longer in charge of our destiny. We are no longer heirs to the wealth of the European family. We are just a small island with no inheritance and no home.

It’s starting to look like Christmas in a bed-sit.