Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable:
“There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with[c] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[d] 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father[e] said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32 NRSV)
Prodigals are spendthrifts. They are reckless, lavish, extravagant.
This scripture has more than one prodigal.
The prodigal friends of the younger brother. They used him as long as he had money. When the money ran out so did they.
The younger son shamed his father. He might as well have said, “I wish you were dead!” His father sells some of his property to give to his playboy son. Within days he’s out of there! He wants out of this family, out of this backwater town. He can’t get far enough away.
He has a great time. For awhile. Eventually, his greed and lavish living catch up with him and he ends up in Babylon. Dirty, poor, living with unclean pigs.
Some would say he got what he deserved.
The elder son is steady, dependable; does everything right; has decorum. His life is one rule after another. Have-to’s rule his life: I have to do this, then I’ll have to do that. He’s prodigal with his lack of love. He has no joy. He’s greedy for love and feels he’ll only find it in his inheritance.
Now we come to the father. The one who was shamed by his younger son. The community looks upon him with a lack of respect: he shouldn’t have handled his son with kid gloves. No wonder he left his father.
Every morning the father gets up and looks out the window. Waiting for his son’s return, praying for it. He gazes with his nose pressed up against the window pane. The elder son scoffs at him as he heads out to the fields.
One day he sees a glimmer in the distance. He looks carefully and lo and behold it’s him! He’d know that body language anywhere! The father shames himself, again, by hiking up the skirts of his robe and running like a fool to meet him.
The younger son, starving, sick, worn out, falls into his father’s arms. Together they stumble towards the house. The servants catch up with him and begins issuing orders.
“Get him a bath. And get the good robe out– no, no, not that one. The one I use for special occasions. A ring. He needs a ring. You’ll find one in cupboard. Go get it. Hurry. There’s no time to waste.”
Then the invitations go out and the fatted calf is on the spit. Friends begin to arrive and hesitantly welcome the young man home. As time passes, the celebration heightens.
The elder son arrives home late that night. He arrives home late every night. After all, the farm’s been left up to him. If it weren’t for him the farm would be in ruins.
That’s when he hears the music and the party noises. He receives word from a servant that his brother is home. His anger rises. How dare he!
The father shames himself, once more, by leaving his guests to go after his elder son. “There’s plenty enough for all of us! We had to celebrate for your brother was lost and now is found!”
Prodigal friends. Lavish with someone else’s money only to leave him high and dry.
Prodigal younger son. Lavish with his inheritance. Greedy to see the world and have people like him and his playboy lifestyle.
Prodigal elder son. Greedy with his love. Grasping every penny. Hoping his brother never returns.
The biggest surprise is the the prodigal father. Lavish with his love for his family. Forgiving of sons who wish he were dead. Waits and waits for the lost one to return. Cares nothing about the gossip from the neighbors because he has more important things to attend to.
The prodigal father. Waiting while you and I get over our anger because someone came out on top who didn’t deserve it. Waiting for the sinner in us to show up and fall into his arms. Forgiving and giving beyond our wildest dreams.
God. Moving down the road at a double trot to catch us. Moving out into the backyard to remind us who we are and to whom we belong. Moving out into a God-hating world to give us God’s most valuable possession: his Son.
All glory and honor be to God.