Here is what the word “Prodigal” means according to Dictionary.com
1. wastefully or recklessly extravagant: prodigal expenditure.
2. giving or yielding profusely; lavish (usually fol. by of or with): prodigal of smiles; prodigal with money.
3. lavishly abundant; profuse: nature’s prodigal resources.
4. a person who spends, or has spent, his or her money or substance with wasteful extravagance; spendthrift.
The Prodigal son. This is probably one of the best known stories in the Bible. It’s a parable – a story – told by Jesus to make a point. You can find it in Luke 15, but here is the basic story line:
A man has two sons. The youngest son asks his father for his inheritance. The son takes the money his father gives him, moves away and spends his money on fast living. Suddenly there is a severe economic downturn and the son is left penniless and friendless and is forced to take a menial job feeding pigs. Let me pick up the Bible story from there.
“When he [the son] came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. ‘
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
So here’s the thing. Many people who preach on this bible story focus on the son and what he did. He spent all his money “wastefully or recklessly extravagant.” He was a prodigal and there are lessons to be learned from this. But I think this approach totally misses the point of the story. The real prodigal, the person who spent lavishly and with wasteful extravagance was the father. First, he gave freely to his son. He gave his son everything he possibly could. Second, the father anticipated, looked forward to his son’s return. Third, after the son had squandered his inheritance, the father lavishly greeted him and loved him. Next the father recklessly feasted the return of the son. He gave a great party! Most of us would consider the father foolish, but this story really shows us what God the Father is like.
Think about what this says about God. The picture I get of Him from this story is that no matter how far we stray or how much we think we have screwed up, God is always looking for us to return. We always have a way back. The door is never closed. That to me is terribly comforting. But even better is that, just like the father in this story, God doesn’t treat us the way we deserve. Certainly, the father could have berated his son for squandering the money, made him feel guilty and kicked him out of the house, but that is not what he did. In the same way, God does not treat us as we deserve. Even though we may have squandered what God has given us, even though we may have totally disrespected Him, God the Father accepts us back with open arms and a loving embrace. He doesn’t lay on the guilt. He doesn’t turn his back or write us off. Lastly, I get the idea from this story that God doesn’t play by our rules. Again, in the story, the son had his script and came to his father with a plan. Instead the father threw the script away, threw all caution to the wind and threw a big party. We try to come to God on our terms trying to tell Him how things are going to be. Instead God celebrates when we come to Him. He decides how things are going to be according to His heart’s desire.
So where does that leave us. I think we need to rethink what God thinks of us. Too often we find ourselves spiritually penniless and friendless. We find ourselves mucking around in the filth of this world, but we are afraid of God. We think that we’ve gone too far “this time.” Instead of staying there, go home! Say to God, “I’ve screwed up and I want to come home.” I guarantee He will welcome you in, give you a big hug and celebrate.