Will the REAL Prodigal Please Stand Up? (Hint: It’s NOT the Son)

The story of the Prodigal son is fascinating for many reasons. It resonates with many of us in the way it describes the impatience and impetuousness of youth. Young adults still grow restless or rebellious and leave home. People with money still acquire shallow friends who leave them when the money runs out. A fool and his money are still soon parted. Parents still have to deal with disrespect and sibling rivalry. When you fail on your own and hit rock bottom, you still think about going home.

prodigal
The Prodigal Son 1888 John Macallan Swan 1847-1910 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1889 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01569

There are universal themes in this parable that are still alive and fresh. We find it easy to identify with these themes, but like Jesus’ audience, we are surprised by the Father’s reactions: “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ (Luke 15:23-24, NIV)

A Surprising Twist

Tim Keller’s book “The Prodigal God” does an amazing job bringing this parable home to each of us. By definition a prodigal is someone who “spends money or resources freely and recklessly”; or is “wastefully extravagant”. The younger son has always been known to us as “the prodigal son” because he wasted his money on extravagant living, but the real story Jesus told was about two sons, one who was lost and then found, and one who did his duty but secretly resented it. Both sons were disrespectful and rebellious to their Father. Both sons were dysfunctional about family, wrapped up way more in the reality of me rather than the possibility of us. Is your family ever that way? Have YOU ever been that way?

As the story ends, only the younger brother found restoration, while the older brother is left waiting stubbornly in the courtyard, refusing to go in to the party. What happened next? Did the older brother ever escape self-righteousness to find love and peace? What are the outcomes, and what is this story really trying to tell me? There are unanswered questions, and to me the most interesting one is, “Who is really the prodigal in this parable?” The one who shows true extravagance and lavish spending in this story is the FATHER. He spends his resources on both sons, willing to part with his entire estate to sustain one and to reclaim the other.

Lessons From The Prodigal Son

As he educates us about who the Father really is, Jesus teaches that 1) God is always scanning the horizon, looking for his lost children to come home; 2) the Father wants to restore his rebellious children to the family; 3) When someone has hit rock bottom, but repents and turns upward to God, He greets them not in judgment but in compassion with a hug and a kiss; 4) The Father goes all prodigal on the celebration: He brings out the best robe, his family ring, new sandals, and kills the fatted calf. He not only throws a lavish party for us but he also dresses us up with His finest stuff so that we won’t feel out of place. He clothes us in HIS righteousness and adopts us into HIS family! 5) His home is a place of joy, where it is ok to make merry and celebrate. (And it’s ok to invite other sinners to the party!)

The Prodigal Father is the God who rejoices in finding what is lost, restoring what was broken, and being extravagant with his children. If you’ve been hanging out somewhere else, it really is ok to go home. If you are standing in judgement over your fellow man, you can let it go. Repent. Today. Your Father is waiting for you.

The Real Prodigal

A prodigal is extravagant, someone who likes to live
By spending without limit, giving all they have to give!
There was the prodigal son, who went and squandered all he had;
He spent the precious money he’d been given by his dad.
The prodigal father held a party, killed the fatted calf:
“My son is home!” The servants saw him run, and heard him laugh!
The son came home alone and spent, his walk slowed to a plod,
Humbled by his failures, beaten by the miles he’d trod;
His father’s celebration may have seemed a little odd,
But he had learned of grace by worshipping the Prodigal God.

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