Monday 27 June 2011

So, what's a Prodigal?

This was the question I asked myself the other week when I woke with an urging to read Luke 15. I couldn't even remember what was in Luke 15, but knew I needed to read it. Luke 15, is all about lost stuff: a sheep, a coin and a son. In each parable that Jesus speaks, He tells us that that which was lost comes back and there's great rejoicing.

However, it was the third parable in the chapter that really got me thinking. Here it is in full:

11 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. 13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’
20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring[b] out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”


We know the story. The young son wants his inheritance straight away and goes off, spends it all, loses it all, ends up so depressed and low that he is envious of the food that the pigs are eating. He then comes to his senses, and realises that the least of his father's servants is treated better than he is, they all have clean clothes, good food and a roof over their heads.

He makes the decision to return home and beg for a job, hoping that he can get some empathy from the one he turned his back on. This is where we realise that Jesus is showing us what our Father in Heaven is really like.
The son makes his way back home and has a speech ready, but as soon as his father sees him, his father "ran and fell on his neck and kissed him."
In the time when Jesus walked on earth, a man running like this was simply unheard of. Men of wealth and title never ran. Ever. They were graceful, wore long robes and walked everywhere.
For the father to run, he was doing something that was out of character. He was so overjoyed that he picked up his robe and ran (note that he didn't jog, he ran, he was bursting with excitement!) towards his son.
To put it in a modern context, imagine if the Pope was to arrive somewhere and suddenly see a long lost friend in the distance, and he started to run towards the friend, such was his delight at seeing them again.

That's the sort of reaction the father had to the lost, prodigal son. He was undignified in his joy for his son who had returned.
He threw a party for him. He killed the fattened calf and gave him a robe and a ring, accepting him into the family again.

This is what God thinks of you. He is undignified in His love and delight, when you make a move towards Him, He runs with open arms, kisses you and embraces you as His son or daughter.

The great thing about this parable is that Jesus tells us the reward for those who don't stray, who stay in the family and do the Father's will. They receive the full inheritance of the Father, not a portion, the full amount.

So the message here is that God is so overjoyed in love for you, that He is undignified in His joyous response when you have been away from Him, and unmatched in generosity when you stay with Him.

This Sunday, we are having a Celebration in the Exchange. How excited are you that you are going to meet a God who is undignified in His love and joy for you? are you going out of habit? are you going out of expectation? are you going to be undignified?

In 2 Samuel 6 v 14, David danced before God with great abandon when the Ark of the Covenant was returned to the city. King David danced in the Presence of God.

If God is so delighted to see you that He's undignified in His response, and King David was so delighted to see God that he danced undignified before God, are you ready to dance undignified before God?

Oh, in answer to the title, a Prodigal is "A person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way." So when you blow it all, every thing you have, every chance you think you've been given, God is delighted when you turn to Him. He is undignified and He welcomes you back with great joy.


  1. Hi,

    Good parable about the prodigal. But I always think "poor second son, he never gets a look in" meaning he is very rarely addressed by teaching and yet there is so much going on there. Who loved the father more? the prodigal or the second son? was he speaking out of bitterness or a sense of loyalty and love that he felt was unrewarded?

    Did he hate his brother or was he angry at him for the hurt he brought his father?

    All that said in relation to the point about the undignified response of the father in running to the son, and in using this interpretation as a call to unbridling ones heart in worship, I have a few observations.

    firstly I don't see anything undignified about it at all. I have heard it said that Jewish fathers would be sort of conservative in their expression of emotions but personally I doubt that very much. To label a whole race conservative is stretching the bounds of knowledge of a culture.

    In today's terms the danger of giving people the idea that they can be undignified can lead to expressions of worship that are extreme and from the flesh.

    The other issue worth considering about encouraging people to be undignified in their worship is should we be encouraging people to worship in any prescribed manner at all? Christians may express themselves in a way because they think this is what God requires because somebody in the church pointed out a way. If they do this it is also from the flesh and the worship is not true.

    If you use the example of the prodigals father he did what he did because he loved the son. In other words it flowed from him naturally and no had to tell him or encourage him how to do it.

    Take a man and woman for example who are in love and going out for a meal. Does anyone need to prescribe for them how to speak and be intimate during the course of the meal? No, they will find their own way according to their personalities. And they may even glean from examples of others expressions along the way.

    Would you tell someone at a wedding or a disco how to dance? No, you would just get up and dance yourself and maybe people would be encouraged by you to join in.

    So MY understanding of love and worship of God is BE the worshipper and encourage others by the being and doing, not by the telling.

    What do you think?


  2. Hi Greg,

    Thanks for your comments.
    Often the parable of the prodigal son is read and the focus is on the son that was lost, who returns and becomes part of the family again.
    As you have mentioned, there are 2 brothers here.

    The first gets fed up, leaves home with his inheritance, blows it foolishly, and decides to come home, hoping to be taken on as a servant. He rebelled by being bad, by being what the Pharisees would have called 'unclean'.

    The second son stays at home, does what he thinks is best and then complains to his father that he never had a party thrown for him, that he always did right in his own eyes and that he deserves better. He was so stubborn that his father had to come out to him- he refused to come into the house.
    He rebelled by being good, by being what everyone else called a 'Pharisee'.

    The father in the parable was a wealthy man. He had money, land, servants and would have been respected in his community. A man like this would not have run in public. His attire would have made it ungainly and clumsy looking when he ran, but this is one of the points Jesus was making. Our Father God, is delighted to see us. He loves it when we turn towards Him and seek Him. This is why Jesus said the man ran.

    The Heart of God is what the parable is all about. Neither of the sons knew their father's heart, and did what they either wanted, or thought they knew best. But in each case, both brothers were wrong, both were loved and both were invited to the feast.

    This is God's heart. He wants us to come into His Presence and enjoy being there. We can have a dignified response, but it doesn't come from the heart. A dignified response is what is expected in many churches around the world, people sit, stand and kneel when they are told to.

    God wants us to respond with our hearts. If that means dancing, singing, shouting, weeping, laughing, then worshipping Him from our hearts is what pleases Him most. That's what being undignified is.