Jesus: The Prodigal Son
“The younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. . . .” Luke 15:11-24
When I first studied this passage back in Bible College, it was easy for me to identify the younger son as those people who have taken their God-given gifts and talents and squandered them for their own selfish reasons. I saw them as the heathens among us who didn’t know that God is waiting to welcome them home.
After some reflection (and a few years of maturity), I began to see myself as the prodigal son – wasteful with my own God-given gifts, lavish in my pride, and extravagant in the ways I used my words, even to the point of hurting others. Yes, in many ways I was like the prodigal son.
Seeing myself (and others) as a type of prodigal son is easy. We’re all selfish sinners bent on having our own way at the expense of those who love us. What bothers me (and may bother you) is to consider this: Jesus is the true Prodigal Son. I wish I could say the idea of seeing Jesus as the prodigal son is original, but it has been around for a long time
Give this concept some time to sink in. One day Jesus took His inheritance and His title, left the home of His Father and traveled to a distant, foreign country. He spent all He had to become a human and emptied Himself of all the previous privileges He held in His Father’s house. In the strangest investment scheme in history, Jesus prodigiously squandered His inheritance by hanging around with sinners and harlots, drunkards and lepers, tax collectors and sundry riff-raff. After spending all He had, Jesus sensed God’s abandonment (Matthew 27:46), only to return to the Father hungry and thirsty (John 19:28), fresh out of prison (1 Peter 3:19), dressed in borrowed clothes fit only for a dead man.
The word prodigal means to be wastefully or recklessly extravagant or lavish. Jesus recklessly invested everything He had so that we could know His eternal love. As I contemplate this, I’m also challenged by how Jesus gave all of Himself while knowing there would not be a 100% return on His investment. Yes, in the omnipotence of God, He knew how many of us would accept His Divine sacrifice. But as a human, Jesus was spending, if not wasting, His entire self on us. True, He loves His creation; but we sure seem to have a funny way of acknowledging His gift.
Another thing that challenges me about this story is that we often call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son, when in reality it should be called the Parable of the Prodigal Father. The entire story centers around the love, compassion, forgiveness, longing and hope the Father showed in reconciling with the son; or with me, for that matter. Whatever else I’ve been wasting my life on, God knows it is Jim who is hurting, Jim who needs to go home, Jim who needs to know there is still a family ring to wear and an expensive robe to cover my nakedness. And in my first effort to return, God makes the next move and runs to meet me. I don’t even make it all the way home (read that, “heaven”) before I sense the forgiving arms of the Father’s embrace. God the Father is prodigal in His love.
The lesson for me is this: love is never a waste. It can never be too extravagant, overly invested or lavishly spent. At the end of my life, I want people to say of me, “Jim spent all he had to love those around him.” I may have gotten a late start in life on that road home to the Father’s heart, but it is never too late to return.