Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Words fascinate me. I still remember many of my vocabulary words from my youth, especially when a word was unique in meaning or had an unexpected pronunciation. I read the thesaurus for fun. 

Lately, I've been intrigued by the word "prodigal."  This word is very misused, I find. I was the biggest offender of its misuse until rather recently. I grew up thinking that "prodigal" meant the favorite, as in the Prodigal Son was the favorite son. I think this confusion was borne from a lack of knowledge about the Bible and the fact that most other people around me seemed to think it meant something postiive too.

Then I learned that most church people believed "prodigal" meant wayward, since the parable in Luke 15 seemed to concentrate on a really wild kid who disrespected his father. That made much more sense.

I could have just looked the word up in the dictionary, of course. I never did. I'm reading a book now that gives the dictionary definition: recklessly extravagant.  Think of a prodigious feast; there is far too much good food to possibly eat.

So, the Prodigal Son is not the favorite son or even simply the wayward son, though people might argue he was both of those things in Jesus' parable. The Prodigal Son was the recklessly extravagant son, who took his inheritance, blew it on rather unholy things and activities, and then came back with his tail between his legs.

But there is another layer to this story--in fact, there are many layers to this story. Yes, the Prodigal Son was recklessly extravagant with his father's wealth. But as it turns out, we have a Prodigal God. Who knew?

In the parable, of course, God the Father is represented by the earthly father who runs out to meet his son on his walk of shame, and orders a fine robe and great feast to celebrate his son's return. This father, like ours in heaven, is recklessly extravagant in his love and care for his son. The grace is prodigious.

The book I'm reading is called Prodigal God.  When I first heard of that title, laboring under a misunderstanding of what the word "prodigal" meant, it struck me as vaguely offensive. But I have been humbled by Webster's Dictionary, and I now see how appropriate of a title it is.

There is another layer to this parable that many might not know-that of the other, presumably good and obedient, son. I think I'll tackle that part in another post. 

What prodigious feast has God given you lately?