Painting: The Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni (1773)

From the Theologically Fertile Mind of Joseph B. Ostrander

Tuesday’s Theological Tidbits…Scripture Text: Luke 15:11-32

Over at InternetMonk, Chaplain Mike has posted a very thought-provoking review of the Parable of the Prodigal Son from the vantage point of the Father’s extravagant love, grace, joy, restoration, reception, celebration, etc.

The almost archaic word prodigal, rarely used in polite conversation except when referring to the well-known parable that includes this descriptive of the younger son in the story, carries with it the negative connotations associated with Jesus’ illustration.

When we hear it what comes to mind?  Wasteful?  Self-indulgent?  Rebellious?  Wild?  Raucous?  Profligate?  Reckless?  Do images of wild partying, debauchery, spending lavishly on experiencing sensual pleasure and new thrills paint a picture of someone wasting their money?  Someone who doesn’t care about the incredible toll loose living takes on reputations, health, relationships?  Someone who besmirches the family reputation and doesn’t seem to care?

But prodigal doesn’t just refer to its negative side.  The word itself is related to the term prodigious, which speaks of something that is extraordinary in size, amount, or extent.  Both of these words speak of being excessive.  To be prodigal means to be extravagant, liberal, generous, lavish.

When used in the negative sense, it can describe someone who is wasteful or recklessly extravagant; someone who is willing to spend everything they’ve got on their own pleasure.

However, when used in the positive sense, it expresses the lavishness of someone who goes far beyond what anyone would expect to bless others with. 

Don’t you think that’s what this parable is really about?  The behavior of the younger son seems to be understood, even expected.  What, in your opinion, is so uncharacteristic about the younger son’s selfish attitude?  Is there any exaggeration found in Jesus’ description of the prodigal’s actions?  It seems the situation of the prodigal is a good representation of the default condition of all mankind…

This parable then, seems to be more about a prodigal father than an impudent, selfish son.  It’s not so much about a son who willingly wastes his inheritance, but of a father who gives everything lavishly to the ones he loves.  It’s not about the reckless child, but about a devoted father who thinks, “It doesn’t matter…you’re still my child…I’ll always love you…you’ll always be welcome in our home.”

Let’s revisit what the prodigal father does in this story:

His youngest son insults him, and breaks his heart by asking for his inheritance early.  What does the prodigal father do?  He simply gives it to him.  Why?  It might be an early indication of what kind of father he is.  This father is a giver; generous; forbearing; and long-suffering to a fault.  And perhaps he suspects that this impetuous son will only learn life’s harsh lessons through his own willfulness and not by parental rules or discipline.

And when the son had fallen flat on his face and had spent everything and decided the only thing he could do was return home, what did the father do?  “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...”

Wow.  Doesn’t that ruffle a few parental feathers out there in the Coastlands readership?  C’mon now, no need to pretend it doesn’t smack of being too soft on sin, right?

What?  No parental guidelines ala Dr. James Dobson that prescribe tough love?  Love must be tough, right?  No wishy-washy, namby-pamby, lavish party reception for the prodigal’s return, correct?  You’ve got to set up conditional rules, and the groveling returned must prove to you their real sincerity before trust can ever be re-established, yes?

Of course dear saints, we mustn’t expect a Heavenly Father to be so ‘reckless’, or even clueless, when dealing with sinful humanity, correct?  Jesus was simply being facetious when reciting this parable to the crowds within earshot, right???

This story portrays a prodigal father—a loving, gracious, expectant generous, extravagant father.  He is not one sitting at home keeping score in a ledger of pluses and minuses.  He’s not pacing and fuming red-faced, looking out the window for his scoundrel son to come home so that he can read him the riot act and make him repay every penny wasted.  No!  He doesn’t say a word about the shameful details.  He brushes off any hint that his returning son will have to do penance for his actions.  The father’s arms are opened wide.  His tears and laughter are genuine and abundant.  He’s ready to throw a party!  All that matters is that the boy has come home, and the father is willing spend lavishly to celebrate the reunion…

This father represents the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and this is the kind of Father He is.  Our Heavenly Father is a prodigal God, an extravagant God, a lavish and generous God who wants nothing more than for each of us to know we are loved and welcomed into His house.  It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, how we’ve insulted Him, or how we’ve failed to be good children…our Heavenly Father comes running out to us with arms opened wide, and rejoices that we’ve come home and are now safe and sound….

Think about it…