Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:11-31 is known as The Parable of the Prodigal Son. But neither Jesus nor Luke gave us that title. A more appropriate title may be the Parable of the Lost Son. But let’s stick with the “prodigal” theme for a moment.
“Prodigal” is seldom, if ever, used in everyday conversation. Unless, of course, we’re talking about this particular parable. “Prodigal” is from another era where it meant the reckless, extravagant, lavish spending of resources. Over time it has become misused to describe someone that is rebellious or absent.
So, while the younger son was prodigal in recklessly wasting his inheritance, there is another prodigal in the story. Jesus told it this way, “So he (the son) got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet;” (Luke 15:20–22, NASB95)
The father in the story demonstrated lavish love, grace, and forgiveness on his wayward son. You could say he, too, was a prodigal. His joy overflowed. He gave lavish gifts. He exuberantly welcomed his lost son home without reservations or conditions. It was a prodigal love.
Later in the story, the father explains his motives to the older brother. “And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. ‘But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’ ” (Luke 15:31–32, NASB95)
They say that parables of this time were meant to have a single point. But this story seems to break that mold. Sure, there is a main point of celebrating the lost things which are found again. But in this parable, there are also intentional sub-points. The jealousy of the older brother points at the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. The lavish love of the father in the story reminds us of God’s love. And there is an entire sub-text of the need for the grace of forgiveness and reconciliation. We’ll cover some of those in upcoming articles.
Think about this hidden jewel. The son no doubt stank. His clothes and skin were covered with the stench of hog manure. Farm families understand this; you can always tell when someone has come in from the pig lot. The odor is unmistakable. But, get this, the father in the story didn’t wait for the son to take a bath and change clothes. He instead ran to the son, embraced the son, and dressed the son in an expensive robe.
For now, let’s just consider something practical and concrete. Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the father. What would we be like in that situation? Would we harbor judgment against the wasteful use of his inheritance? An inheritance which was provided by years of our own strenuous labor. Would we smugly think “It’s about time” when we saw him returning in the distance? How often have we offered someone a cold shoulder instead of a warm embrace? Let’s instead strive for being prodigal with our love, extravagant with our grace, lavish with our forgiveness, and joyful in our celebration whenever anyone lost turns their heart towards home.