The Youtube Channel “How It Should Have Ended” offers humorous alternate endings to popular films. For instance, their alternate ending for Finding Nemo involves Marlin forgetting how to get back home once he’s finally found his son. The alternate ending for 300 involves King Leonidas falling down the bottomless pit when his Sparta-kick misses the messenger.
I’ve often thought of alternate endings to certain passages in Scripture. For instance, what would have happened if Lazarus was never raised from the dead? What if Peter had never stepped out of the boat and onto the water? What if John the Baptist had kept his mouth shut about King Herod’s unlawful marriage? I think this is a helpful spiritual exercise because it leads us to a better appreciation for the way things actually did unfold in the Gospels.
One passage in particular continuously calls me back to consider it’s alternate endings: the parable of the prodigal son. We all know the story. A young man demands his share of his father’s inheritance before the appropriate time. He then goes off to a distant land and squanders it all on “a life of dissipation.” When he hits rock bottom, unable even to have his share of the pods that the swine feed off of, he decides to return home and declare to his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”
The fact that the father welcomes his son back in a merciful embrace, throws a feast for him, and refuses to treat him as a mere servant should shock us. Our fallen human nature longs to receive mercy, but is often hesitant if not strictly opposed to letting others receive the same degree of clemency. Many times we find ourselves inclined to favor justice over mercy; we romanticize Gandhi’s quote, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” but in practice many of us seem to demand, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
With that being said, it’s rather easy to picture an alternate ending to the parable of the prodigal son. We can imagine the young man, who rudely requested his share of the inheritance and squandered it in a foreign land, returning to his father suggesting that he be treated like a hired servant and having his request granted. Perhaps the father, in his anger and disappointment, becomes tempted to send his son away, effectively disowning him, but decides to keep him around to get some free labor out of him as a punishment. If the father had an “Eye for an eye” mindset, he could have very easily treated his son however he wanted under the guise of justice.
This alternate ending that I have in mind seems to me to be very similar to the premise and character development of the recent film, Suicide Squad. The “Suicide Squad” is a team of antiheros/villains from the DC Comics world. This collection of super-villains is recruited by a secret government agency to carry out dangerous missions in exchange for shorter prison sentences. The reason they are referred to as the “Suicide Squad” is because the conditions of the missions they are sent on are considered suicide missions due to the high probability of death. This is a seemingly brilliant idea for the agency since everyone on the Squad is a prisoner, which means if they succeed in the mission they go back to prison and if they die then there’s one less villain in the world to worry about.
So how is this film like an alternate ending to the parable?
It seems to me that the main villains that make up the Suicide Squad represent the role that the prodigal son would play in the alternate ending to the parable because they have all messed up and are now living the life of a servant. The film begins with a glimpse at each criminal in their respective cells of a penitentiary. It’s interesting to note that Will Smith’s character, Deadshot, is given a mystery heap of junk called “loaf” for dinner- calling to mind the pods that the swine fed off of. Eventually an intelligence operative by the name of Amanda Waller assembles the team and sends them off on a series of missions under the command of Colonel Rick Flag. For his own protection, Flag requests the bodyguard services of a martial arts expert named Katana. It soon became apparent to me that Waller represented the father and Katana represented the elder son in this alternate ending to the parable.
Waller represented the role that the father would play in the alternate ending because she most clearly embodies the philosophy of “justice over mercy.” She constantly reminds the Squad of their past in order to justify her treatment of them. Their identity has forever been stained by their criminal activity and their dignity, according to Waller’s treatment of them, has been reduced to the point where they are merely disposable means to accomplish her ends. Their value is not inherent, it’s determined by the level of services and skills they can offer (which is why one of the characters, El Diablo, resists the opportunity to join the Squad and defiantly states, “I’m not a weapon. I’m a man.”). She implants bombs into their necks which could be detonated at any moment that they tried to disobey orders. Thus they were treated like slaves with no choice but to obey a master who literally held their lives in her hands. She keeps constant watch over them, similar to the image that atheist Richard Dawkins has of God as a “surveillance camera in the sky or the small wiretap inside your head, monitoring your every move.” This is the picture of a father who, upon the return of his prodigal son, agrees to distance himself in a master-slave relationship and constantly reminds the young man of the ways in which he’s failed.
Katana represented the role that the elder son would play in the alternate ending because she teams up with the father-figure, Waller, in resisting the implementation of mercy. In one flashback, we see Katana hold up a sword to a man she found out had been involved in the murder of her husband. He pleas for his life to be spared, but she replies, “Criminals don’t deserve mercy” and kills him on the spot. In the actual parable, the elder son has a hard time rejoicing in his father’s reaction to his brother’s return because, as he tells his father, “Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.” Thus it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to imagine the elder son in the alternate ending being satisfied with the kind of father-figure described above. As the father begins to treat the prodigal son like a slave, I could see the elder son with a smirk on his face, muttering under his breath, “Criminals don’t deserve mercy.”
It’s truly mesmerizing to realize that we could very well have been in the same situation as the Suicide Squad members. If we had a Heavenly Father like Waller, life would be downright frightening. We would be constantly looking over our shoulders, afraid of disappointing the “surveillance camera in the sky,” without a shred of hope for a merciful response to our poor decisions. We would pray for a second chance, but would believe that a third, a fourth, a thousandth chance would be out of the question. Luckily we have a Father who sent His Son to die in our place; a Son who, after being scourged and crucified for a crime He himself did not commit, cried out from His deathbed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We have a Father who sent visions of His Son to a Polish nun named St. Maria Faustina Kowalska in the twentieth century in order to share these and many other quotes on His Divine Mercy:
-“My Heart overflows with compassion and mercy for all,”
-“Child, do not run away from your Father; be willing to talk openly with your God of mercy who wants to speak words of pardon and lavish his graces on you. How dear your soul is to Me! I have inscribed your name upon My hand; you are engraved as a deep wound in My Heart,”
-“My mercy is greater than your sins and those of the entire world. Who can measure the extent of my goodness? For you I descended from heaven to earth; for you I allowed myself to be nailed to the cross; for you I let my Sacred Heart be pierced with a lance, thus opening wide the source of mercy for you. Come, then, with trust to draw graces from this fountain. I never reject a contrite heart.”
Yet all of us still have a Katana lingering around in our lives; a voice that tries to convince us, “Criminals don’t deserve mercy.” We are surrounded by a society that seems to favor justice over mercy. The evil one wants to convince us that our sins cannot be forgiven. He wants to convince us that our Father is like Waller in hopes that we will be afraid to ask for a second, a third, a thousandth chance.
Don’t be fooled.
Instead, acknowledge that idea as merely an alternate ending to the way the parable, a depiction of our Father’s boundless mercy and love, actually unfolds.
“While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.”