The parable of the prodigal son is very popular among other bible stories. This is largely on account of the fact that it has a lot of drama from the beginning to the end; in fact, the presence of lots of parties makes it more appealing. Upon a reflective insight we discover that there are three main active characters in the parable and each of them has some special peculiarity and lessons to dispense. In this reflection, we see all of them as being PRODIGAL. Essentially the word prodigal generally means being wasteful, extravagant and lavish especially with money or other resources. Upon a deeper reflection, being prodigal can also be positive when it is applied to some virtuous act like love, forgiveness, kindness etc. Today we shall be reflecting on three forms of prodigality and how they affect us.
· THE PRODIGALITY OF THE YOUNGER SON
The free decision of this character sets the tone of the story. We are told that he (the younger son) came to his father and requested for his own share of the father’s estate (wealth). In the first place the request was preposterous in many ways. He was the younger son and not the first (heir apparent) and his father was still alive; a man’s properties are not shared while he is still breathing. Nonetheless we see him exercising his freedom. We are basically free to make choices but this freedom should be exercised wisely and responsibly as the choices we make today determines the nature of tomorrow. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were given the freedom to choose between the fruit at the middle of the garden (and its consequential reward) and the other fruits (Gen.2:15-17). In this same way, you are free to make choices but be careful that the choices you make will be ones that will help and not hinder you or anyone.
Being granted the request by his father, this younger son took to a FAR country. Far country in this sense refers to a place of disconnection from the father’s love, care, protection, provision and direction. Far country is a place and a situation of lawlessness and sin. It is furthermore a place of hunger and famine on account of the disconnection from the source of sustenance. Nothing actually lasts in the far country. Like the younger son, some of us have various FAR COUNTRIES in our lives. Far countries are those things that push us to sin and disconnect us from the grace of God. The book of Proverbs (14:12) was referring to a far country when it says that there is a WAY that seems right to a man but the end of it is death. The same reference can be seen in the prophecy of Isaiah (53:6) where it is stated that we have all gone ASTRAYeach on his own WAY. The question could be“What is your own FAR COUNTRY?”
After squandering all he got from his father on loose living and following the famine in that far country, the younger son lost everything, became poor and friendless. This points to the fact that in the FAR country all riches will disappear but God’s word will remain (Mark 13:31) and the greatest of riches can be found in our souls (Matt. 16:26). When we are disconnected from God in our FAR country experience we suffer spiritual hunger and famine (Jn. 15:5). In his desperation in the FAR country the younger son decided to hire himself out to one of the locals to take care of their herd of swine (pigs). Now this is the lowliest of job a Jew could do that time. This is because Jews consider pig as an unclean animal. Hence for a Jew to take care of pigs and feed them is very senseless. That the young man could not even get leftovers from the pig’s meal points to the fact that he was hanging in there only to get accommodation.
The high point of the episode was when the young man came to himself or more appropriately to his senses. This is a pointer to the fact that often when we are hanging in the FAR country we operate outside of our real selves, out of our real senses. This “coming to himself” is the turning point in the parable. At this point, the young man realized where he came from and what is happening in his wretched life. At this point he realized that he was in a strange place. This was the turning point of repentance. At this point he longed for reconciliation. It should be noted that repentance precedes reconciliation. There is no real reconciliation without a prior repentance which involves realizing oneself and coming to one’s senses. This is actually what we need to do when we find ourselves in stuck and wasting in a FAR COUNTRY.
It is one thing to realize how far we have strayed into the FAR country and another thing for us to make the decision to return home. There are many people out there who have been vacillating from coming to themselves (to their senses) and going out again from themselves (from their senses). It takes a strong conviction to return from the region of sin and disconnection back to the region of God and salvation. The young man coming to himself said: “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him “father I have sinned against heaven and before you ; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants”. Pay attention to these: “I will arise!” This actually means that he has been completely down. Sin has a way of bringing us down spiritually and even physically (Luke 5: 17-26).
Furthermore he said that he would go to his father and acknowledge his sins. Very often we rationalize and justify our sins. He went immediately without wasting time like we often tend to postpone our repentance and reconciliation with God. If he wasted more time he could have died without realizing what he had already conceived in his mind. Many people have died with their wonderful dreams due to inactivity and delay.
From this younger son we discover two forms of prodigality. The prodigality of wastefulness with the father’s wealth which took him to a far country on the one hand and the prodigality of total reversal which brought him to his senses and eventually brought him home back to his father. This radical change is a positive prodigality which is a recommendation we need in our lives.
· THE PRODIGAL FATHER
It may sound strange to see the father in the parable as being prodigal. But from our prior understanding, we acknowledge a form of positive prodigality. From the first mention of the father in the parable we are shown a gentle and understanding father. When his younger son demanded a share of his wealth he neither complained nor resisted. When the son was away his mind was not at rest as he prayed and wished that one day the younger son would come back home. To show us that he was always looking forward to his return we are told that he:
· Sighted him from a distance.
· Ran towards him.
· Embraced him.
· Kissed him.
· Staged a welcome party for him.
These gestures demonstrated the father’s prodigality in forgiveness, affection and love. By sighting him from a distance we understand that the father had been waiting and looking forward to the day his son would return; he was hopeful. The father running towards him demonstrated his eagerness to have him back alive. A man at the age of the father was not expected to run except the situation is between life and death and that was the situation in the father’s perception. Embracing and kissing the boy the father demonstrated that he still values his son so much. He is priceless now regardless of his notorious past; every saint had a past and every sinner has a future.
The father is very much like God who is more interested in our reconciliation with him than in our past. God is rather thinking about a better future for us. Hence the father called for a robe, a ring and sandals for his younger son. This tells us that when we make a return to God he will restore our lost fortunes (Deut. 30:3). He was given the best robe indicating royalty, a ring of authority and sandals for a new platform as a son not a slave; a member of the household not an outsider, an insider not an outsider. Above all this wonderful father organized a feast in honour of the son. All these happened because this lost son freely decided to come back from the FAR COUNTRY! Whenever we are ready to come back to God He is faithful and ready with His prodigal love to have us back.
· THE PRODIGAL ELDER SON
The story would have ended with the father’s reconciliation with the younger son upon his sorrowful return. However there comes the elder son whose prodigality is very much unlike the father and the younger son. There was no mention of him pleading with the younger brother not to leave the house when he made the initial move to break up with his family. When he was “lost” he could not go out to look for him. He was obviously happy about his younger brother’s attitude and may be in his mind he is gone and gone forever for good! For him he deserves to die out there.
This elder son’s prodigality consists in wickedness and lack of charity. Hence he was not only surprised but also angry that his brother repented and came back and was having a party to celebrate his return. When a servant told him what was going on in the house he refused to go in. He was not ready to see a lost and wayward brother reconciled and reunited with the father. When his father came to persuade him to come and rejoice with the others over the return of his brother he complained that a party had not been thrown in his honour since he had been labouring for his father. He went on to give us the information no one had before now that the younger brother spent his property on prostitutes. From the elder son’s statements his relationship with the father was simply business-like: “I work for you and you pay me!” He had no love and affection.
From the reflection on the parable, we notice that all the three characters were prodigal but on various pedestals. The younger son was prodigal with the resources of his father which he senselessly lavished. However his conversion showed us another form of prodigality which reversed the earlier one. The father maintained his positive prodigality with involves love, affection and forgiveness. The elder son on the other hand maintained a negative prodigality all through. At the end of the story he became the one that remained negatively prodigal as he was out and disconnected from the father while the younger son was in and connected with the father.
Very often some people like the elder son identify others as sinners and in their memory register such people as legally condemned and qualified for hell fire. Nobody has right to condemn another when God had not said the final word on someone. Our Lord Jesus Christ actually shocked his listeners at some point when he indicated that tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God (Matt. 21:31). More so God is not interested in the death of sinners but in their repentance (Ezk. 18: 23). A Saul could as well become a Paul! Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.
Today we are invited to become positively prodigal like the younger son in our coming totally to our senses and returning to God after wasteful years in the FAR country. We are called upon to adopt the prodigal attitude of love and forgiveness from the father and we are finally called upon to drop the negative prodigality of the elder son by not judging and condemning others who are still in the FAR country after all we have been there too. We thus ask ourselves of the efforts are we making to bring people back to God. If we help or hinder repentance and reconciliation and if we intend to be alone in heaven and have hell filled with our neighbours!
I wish you a blissful Sunday and a most rewarding week ahead!