What is a Prodigal
The Macquarie dictionary defines prodigal as an adjective that means Wasteful or Extravagant. However through the telling and retelling of perhaps one of the most told stories of the New Testament “the story of the Prodigal Son” it has become understood in the mind of many to mean “returning”.
Let’s revisit the story to gain a few more clues as to Jesus intent.
Having squandered his share of his father’s wealth in wild living, when famine came meant the younger son came on hard times feeding pigs in the far country. This is an extremely distasteful occupation for any self respecting Jew. Remembering that even his father’s servants had food and shelter, the younger son decides to return home to take a place among the servants. His return exposed the prodigal to ‘kezazzah’, an unkind Jewish ritual for those that return to community after having lost resources to the gentile world – an unthinkable thing for any in the Jewish community. The Father runs to his son’s side upon his return extending the influence and protection of the father around the son. This unexpected and outrageous expression of love invited any community displeasure to be expressed to him. His ensuing directions to the servants to place on the younger the family ring, sandals and cloak re-established the younger’s relationship in terms that saw him restored in the family and his position secured in the community.
The Elder brother’s failure to remonstrate with his younger brother at the beginning of the story is an early indicator that all is not as it should be for him either. His attitude upon his brother’s return followed by his failure to take the culturally accepted elder brother role as reconciler and host to the Father’s celebration is further evidence that all is not well. The elder brother lays a strong case for the stoning of his rebellious brother (Deut 21:18-21) by introducing the idea the younger has “thrown away your money on whores” (The Message) and then in his tirade against his father he reveals how lost he is “I have slaved for you all these years and you have not even offered so much as a goat to celebrate with my friends”. Clearly the elder son was a prodigal too – at home.
Again the Father is placed in an awkward position now to reconcile his elder son who also sees himself as a servant not a son.
So who is the prodigal? It seems clear anyone who wastes the gift of life in servitude to anything or anyone – even God. It]s not about sex, drugs, rock and roll or religion, but rather all who find themselves estranged from a loving Father. This ‘lostness’ is a relational separation, alienation and brokenness that lead to fractured-ness in our humanity.
The Father wants sons and daughters not servants and his is a relentless search for a relationship with people that are lost so that our humanity can be restored and our place in God’s family as his child secured.
Some uplifting stories that you might like to read that show your not the only one struggling.