- John 1:12– I am God’s child.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word prodigal as “one who spends or gives lavishly and foolishly; characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure.” Until today I was unaware of this. I only knew of the definition “one who has returned after an absence”. Both apply to the younger son of the rich man in Jesus’ parable, and if we’re honest, at least one likely applies to us (at least it does to me). How many people are living in immense debt today because they want to appear better off financially than they actually are? How much food get scraped off of plates at restaurants and into the dumpster because we ordered too much, or thrown straight from the freezer to the trash because we have let it sit there too long? How many of people find themselves surrounded by clutter, some worthy to be featured on that show about hoarders?
So often, we spend and we spend and we spend and we spend until we find our wallets are empty and our energy is depleted. We give of ourselves to the people who are already trying to sap everything they can from us. How many times do we fail to notice God’s still, small voice trying to tell us to avoid situations that will reduce our ability to serve Him fervently?
Tonight, I want to share with you the story of the prodigal son because it’s a story of waste… and then the forgiveness that followed that waste. It’s a story of betrayal… and the redemption which came after. It’s a story of selfishness… and then repentance. And ultimately, it’s a story of a father’s love who never considered his prodigal son as anything less than precious in his heart. So here’s my own personal narrative version of Luke 15:11-24.
The patriarch reclined at the dinner table with his wife and two sons one evening. He blessed the meal and tore a piece of bread off of the loaf before him. His younger son sat to his left, quieter than usual. After the young man failed to touch his food for a few moments, the father wiped his mouth and asked him, “Is something troubling you, my son?” The young man lifted his eyes to meet his father’s.
“I guess I’ll just say it. Father, I want my half of the estate. The money. I want to strike out on my own and go experience life beyond this farm.”
His brother nearly choked on his drink, then slammed down his goblet. “Why you ungrateful little boy! How dare you ask such a thing of our honored father? Do you intend to leave me to pick up your slack around here?”
“Be calm, my son. If your brother wishes it, I will grant it. It is his choice.”
After about a week when the younger son’s portion was gathered and given to him, he left with his largest coin purse and his best clothing and set out for the big city. When he arrived, he find all sorts of entertainment. There were parties at one home or another nearly every night, celebrations and feasts for foreign gods in the public square. Wine flowed in abundance… as long as he paid for each skin. Beautiful women danced around him and beckoned him to spend time with them… for a price. He amassed friends and jewelry and other fineries, staying in the choice inns and with all the right socialites.
But a sudden famine came upon the land. The young man had to sell his donkey to buy food. Prices continued to rise as scarcity did, and then he sold his jewelry, most of it for less than half what he paid to buy it. Finally he sought work as a hired hand on farms. Many turned him down because they couldn’t afford to pay him. One grumpy man finally gave him a job… feeding the pigs. The man was grateful for any money at this point. He had already given up his comfortable accommodations and taken to sleeping behind the barn or with the pigs to stay warm when the desert temperatures dropped in the evenings.
With what little he was making, he had to save nearly a several days wages just to buy one meager meal. He finally became so hungry that as he tossed the slop into the trough for the pigs he fell to his knees and gripped the edge of it, ready to stick his face down into it and eat the mystery mixture. As tears of desperation slid down his face, he feared what his boss may do if he stole the pigs’ food. Then a strange thought crossed his mind.
It had been several years since he last saw the man. He must be getting old now. How long had it been since he even sent word of his condition to the man who raised him? Longer than he cared to remember. How many of his servants had full bellies at his father’s table while he knelt here in the mud craving pig slop? Maybe if I go back to him, he will be merciful enough to hire me as a servant and I can eat enough to sustain me.
So the young man set out, a ragged robe on his back and a narrow branch for a walking stick, some pilfered, dry bread in his satchel and a small skin of water hanging from his shoulder. He set his face towards his father’s house and began the journey back home. It would take longer this time because he travelled on foot.
The patriarch rose early in the morning to fulfill the routine he had made for himself these last few years. He made rounds on his land to survey its progress, assure himself that the servants were doing all he had instructed, get status reports from his older son. Son. Then he went to the front of his house and stood, staff in hand, and looked out to the horizon. He stood for hours in between meal times. One day my waiting will pay off. One day, my son will return.
One of his servants approached him to ask what he would like prepared for the midday meal. The patriarch gave him a conservative menu. The famine was still in effect. Just as the servant turned to see to the preparations and the patriarch turned to look for his son, the young man caught his eye. He was gaunt and dishevelled, but he was walking toward his home.
“Wait!” he called to the servant.
The old man lifted his robes to reveal his knees and girded it about his belt. Then he ran. He ran with all the desperation he wanted to run with as his son had set out that day. As he neared his boy, he dropped his staff and took hold of his son’s shoulders. He could not yet find the words to speak or the breath with which to utter them. Fear crossed the young man’s eyes and he lowered his gaze and spoke.
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am not worthy to be your son.”
The servant approached and the patriarch found his breath and interrupted his son.
“Quick! Look at his clothes! Bring the best robe and put it on him! His hands are bare and his shoes are worn! 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 to me, but now he is found! My son! My son!”
He picked the man up in a tight embrace and found enough strength to spin him around a few times as he did when he was a boy. The son’s eyes filled with tears and he lost his voice. His shame hung heavy over his head, but his father tilted his chin upward. “My son,” he spoke tenderly. They walked back to the house, arms around each other’s backs. The servants met them near to it with the finery the father commanded.
And they began to celebrate.