Perhaps you reacted to this title as I first did. When I considered the meaning of the word “prodigal” I thought of a person who left the family and acted foolishly as in the parable Jesus taught in Luke chapter 15. When I looked for the definition of the word “prodigal” I found that I was totally wrong. I discovered that there are two definitions, both of which are revealed through this parable. First the word is defined as “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant. The second definition is “having or giving something on a lavish scale; unsparing.”
Now let’s look deep into this parable and see why we can say that God is prodigal. My insights come from a book I recently read by Tim Keller, The Prodigal God. I had read this passage in the Bible many times and had always focused on the foolish younger son who seemed to squander his portion of what should have been a future inheritance. I confess that I sided with the older son who, in spite of his obedience to the family, appeared to be unfairly treated in favor of his foolish brother. You see, the younger son had requested his half of the inheritance he would have received upon his father’s death. This cost the father half of his wealth. After receiving his inheritance, the son left the family and fulfilled the first definition stated above. His disrespect for his father and immoral reckless behavior led him on a path of destruction. Realizing that he had nothing left, he returned home, humble and willing to be treated as a servant. But instead of being turned away, he was joyfully welcomed home by his father. He was given new clothes, a big party and was reinstated as a rightful heir of what was left of the inheritance.
Obviously, that did not set well with the older son. He refused to join the celebration and presented his case to the father. He felt that he had been treated unfairly. After all, he protested that he had been slaving for his father and never disobeyed. Shouldn’t this earn him the favor of his father? Never had the father allowed him to have a big party with his friends. He realized that his half of the inheritance would now be shared with his brother. He was angry. I could see his point. How could the father behave in this manner? Then I realized that something within my heart had been revealed.
As Tim Keller explored the parable he revealed that there were two kinds of people represented in the story – and they both were the same. By the end of the story, both at one time had been alienated from the father. The younger son had acknowledged his sinful ways and had returned to the father in humility. The older son at the end of the parable has not responded to the father’s plea to have a change of heart and join in the celebration. The younger son had been foolish and sinful and the older son had been judgmental and unforgiving. I saw myself in both sons. For many years I hoped my “good works” would earn favor with God. Later I realized my need for a Savior, confessed my sins and received forgiveness. Yet still at times I display attitudes that can alienate me from fellowship with God.
This parable also teaches us about the father. I am sure that the father was heartbroken when his younger son left the family. It is revealed that he had been watching for his son to return, for the father saw his son coming from a distance. When he saw his son coming, rather than reprimanding him, the father opened his arms and was filled with compassion and joy. As the son asked for forgiveness the father’s love for his son was expressed unsparingly.
And that is a picture of our Heavenly father. The compassionate love and forgiveness God offers to us is given on a lavish scale. It cost Him dearly. He paid for it on the cross. Now I understand that although the parable relates the story of two sons, both of whom need forgiveness, it is more about the father. It is also about me. I am eternally grateful that God responded to my plea for forgiveness and draped me in His robe of righteousness. Now I see even more clearly that because He willingly, unsparingly gives His love and forgiveness, God is prodigal.
I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. Isaiah 61:10a (NLT)
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1a (NIV)
- Sit Still