Jesus tells a story about a family, specifically about two sons and a father. We know it as the story of the prodigal son. But I’ve come to the conclusion that the title given to that story doesn’t fit with what is revealed. It’s limiting.
I’ve written before about this story, but sometimes I need a reminder, or I see things in a new way. So, I guess this is one of those times.
A few weeks ago, someone mentioned that the meaning of the word prodigal is “wasteful.” I looked it up.
Prodigal essentially has two meanings. One is to spend money or use resources freely and recklessly, to be wastefully extravagant. Other words related are wasteful, irresponsible, self-indulgent, excessive, reckless.
The other meaning is to have or give something on a lavish scale. Related words are generous, lavish, liberal, bountiful, abundant in, abounding in.
With that in mind, we realise that there is more than one prodigal in the story!
The younger son asks the father for what is rightfully his, he leaves home and he is wasteful, self-indulgent and reckless with what he is given. The younger son is prodigal.
The elder son works hard, lives like a servant. And then the father drops what must be a bombshell for him. “Son, you’re always with me, and everything I have is yours.”
This son is also wasteful. just not in the same way as his younger brother. He is wasteful because everything belongs to him, and yet he is not recognizing that fact, and so he is wasting the resources that are his to freely use. Is it possible to be wasteful and reckless by not using what we have been freely given? I think so.
And then we have the father. My friend Sarah (unionandwhisper) dropped this piece of the jigsaw in place a few weeks back, highlighting that the father is also prodigal (I like to give credit where it’s due!) He is lavish, extravagant, liberal, unsparing.
The younger son was halfway there. He knew he was a son, he just wasn’t prodigal in the way his father was. This son simply needed his father to show him how to live as a prodigal. But it’s the elder son I feel for most. He didn’t even realise who he was and what was his as a result.
The lavishness and extravagance of the Father toward us is an example for us. It’s OK to be prodigal. Just not those who are wasteful, reckless and self-indulgent.
And we aren’t meant to be those who are wasteful by not recognizing that everything belongs to us. We aren’t meant to live as servants, but to live as sons.
We have a prodigal Father! He is lavish, extravagant, liberal, unsparing, abounding in, and abundant in all that he is and in all that Christ is in us. We have an immeasurable resource, Christ in us, of Love, Peace, Joy, Life, Compassion, Kindness, Patience and much, much more.
We can be prodigal with Love for those who feel unloved. Prodigal with Peace for those in a storm. Prodigal with Life for those who are ‘dead’. And so on. We can be prodigal with all that Christ is in us.
The world is full of prodigals. Some people are like the younger son. There are people like the older son. And there are some like the father.
Which prodigal will you and I be?
Eat the Bread, drink the Living Water.