Prodigal is a foreign word to our ears. It means “overwhelmingly wasteful.” If you have ever been in church circles, the word may conjure up an image of a young man in tattered rags. “Prodigal” may also bring to mind a person who has gone astray from faith in God, one who for whatever reason is no longer following Jesus. This is because the word is associated with a story Jesus told in Luke 15:11-32.
The story of “The Prodigal Son” is about a young man who basically disses his father by asking for his inheritance early. By doing this, he was saying, in so many words, that he wished his father were dead. If that wasn’t enough of an insult, the son goes to a distant country and spends all of his father’s money on prostitutes and wild living. His whole inheritance—the one he got while his father was still alive—was spent on partying and sowing his wild oats. But disaster soon strikes. A famine lays waste to the land. The son has no food and no money, and he ends up in what was at the time an embarrassing occupation: he works as a hired hand feeding pigs. Soon the son has a flash of inspiration and decides to return home in the hopes of becoming one of his father’s servants. As the boy gets close to home, his father sees him coming and runs to greet his son. Instead of scolding him, he wraps him in a loving embrace and kisses him. The father calls for a celebration and gives his son the best robe and puts a ring on his finger. He tells his servants to kill the fattest calf. As far as the father is concerned, nothing is too much for this occasion. His son has returned home!
Not only is this a story about a wasteful and reckless son, this story is also about a wasteful and reckless father. The father runs to the son and lavishes his love on him. Even though the son has wasted his inheritance and flushed his life down the drain, the father embraces him. His son has returned home, and it is time to celebrate. The best robe, the fattest calf, and the expensive ring show that the father sees this as a time to pull out all the stops. The love that the father shows might be offensive to those who hear this story for the first time. After all, isn’t he being even more reckless than his son? The father is the prodigal, and his heart mirrors the heart of our prodigal God. God’s love for us is limitless; he’s overjoyed when we return to him. This is how much he wants relationship with us. God pulled out all the stops in sending Jesus to die for us, and when we return to him, there is a party in heaven.