I want to focus on one word: “Prodigal.”
Many of us think we know what “prodigal” means:
someone who wanders off—
someone who is lost—right?
Let me read you Webster’s definition of “prodigal”:
“Exceedingly or recklessly wasteful;
extremely abundant; a spendthrift.”
Nothing about “being lost” there;
nothing all that sinful—is there?
Of course, it’s because the boy spent his fortune
that he was called “prodigal”—but that wasn’t the sin;
the sin was, first, turning his back on his Father;
and second, giving away God’s gifts the wrong way.
And doing that always leaves us empty:
We use the gift of speech—
with vanity or ugliness or falsehood—it leaves us empty.
We hoard gifts for ourselves
that we could have lavished them on others—
we feel empty.
There is nothing wrong with being “prodigal”—
after all, who is more “prodigal” then the Father?
He really is “recklessly spendthrift”—
both with his property and his love.
Which is exactly what the older boy resents, isn’t it?
How often we can be that way.
Someone else “gets off easy”;
someone else gets a free ride—
we can resent it.
But maybe we should challenge ourselves:
Will God really “let them off easy”?
Someone bitterly asked me this about two sisters:
“Joan” doesn’t care about God—or other people—
yet God lets her off easy;
while “Jane” tries to be faithful—and has it so hard!
What if “Joan” has an “easy” path to hell;
while “Jane” has a hard path to heaven?
We see really very little;
God is doing things we know nothing about.
Ultimately he is both truly just and truly merciful.
But if God, the Prodigal Father,
aches and weeps for all his lost children—
who are we to resent that?
God is “prodigal”—
“recklessly and exceedingly wasteful”
with his love, his forgiveness, and his gifts.
Aren’t we glad?
If he weren’t, where would that leave us?