Aren’t these some of the best words ever?
The soldier coming back from deployment. The hospitalized Covid patient returning to her home and life from the grip of death. The wayward child. The faraway family member back where they belong. We welcome these and others like them with open arms. We put out the yard signs or banners. We meet them at the airport or pick them up at the hospital. We spruce up the home, put on fresh linens, cook their favorite meals, and stock their favorite snack or soda. Is there a celebration more joyful than a welcome home?
Scripture relates to us the story of the one we call “The Prodigal Son.” You remember the story. The arrogant younger son asks dad for his inheritance, pockets the money, and heads out to have a wildly good time far away from home. He apparently parties, buys stuff for people to buy friends, and has a grand ole time until the money runs out. In desperation he then tucks his tail and heads back home to dad a humbled young man. From this story people tend to assume that prodigal means rebellious or wayward. Actually, it means wastefully extravagant. The young man is referred to as a prodigal because he goes away and frivolously spends his father’s money recklessly.
How many of us could be labeled a prodigal with this definition? I know I sure could at Christmas time when I’m buying for kids and grandkids. On a routine basis we need to be aware of this tendency and probably scale back a bit on spending, shopping, home decorating or whatever the area is where we struggle with overspending. For me, book stores are on my dangerous list, and I am definitely a prodigal book buyer. I have more books in my shelf and on my Kindle than I will probably ever read right now, yet that doesn’t stop me from adding new ones.
But there is another part of the definition for prodigal: having or giving something on a lavish scale. This part of the definition is seen in our Prodigal Son story in another character, the Father. Do you recall what he does? He waits and watches the whole time the son is gone. Then he welcomes the rebel home with open arms, gifts, and a huge shindig. He has already given the younger son his inheritance, but then the father spends out of the money that is left in order to welcome the son with a lavish banquet and gifts to accept him back home.
I remember reading Timothy Keller’s book Prodigal God and being bowled over with this other slant on prodigal-ness. In it Keller talks about God being prodigal. God is represented by the father in our story. The story demonstrates the generosity and abundant mercy and forgiveness of God who loves on a lavish scale. Our Father forgave our riotous living and gave us the most extravagant gift of all time in His son Jesus. He provides and protects and blesses us undeserving humans beyond what we can imagine. And He will one day welcome us home to the ultimate reception of all time!
This part of the story brings up another thought. Are we prodigal in our giving? With our love? With kindness? With generosity? With helpfulness? Are we living big, lavish lives for the good of those we live with and come in contact with? Are we lavishly spreading acceptance, gratitude, the goodness of God and His glory as we travel through life each day?
I think the image of Pigpen from Charlie Brown certainly paints a picture for us here. Are we going through our moments and days leaving a dust trail of grace, mercy, forgiveness, unconditional love and all those traits of Our Father that set Him apart and draw others to Him? Like Pigpen covered in dirt, are we so covered in God’s characteristics that people identify us by that trail of grace?
As we seek to “be imitators of God as dearly loved children,” it is time we start imitating His prodigal ways of loving and giving. I challenge myself and you today, if there is a situation where it is in your power to bless, then do it! And do it lavishly, extremely extravagantly, and unexpectedly. As we walk around in this world being a light for the Lord, what better way to shine brightly than to stand out as a generous giver, a lavish lover, an extravagantly kindhearted, magnanimous, tender, merciful, forgiving reflection of our Prodigal God!