“Who’s the Prodigal?”

“Who’s the Prodigal?”

Lent 3 (NL3) John B. Valentine
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 March 7, 2021


The word of the day is “Prodigal” ... P-R-O-D-I-G-A-L ... “Prod·i·gal”.

According to Merriam-Webster ... “prodigal” means either

• “spending money or resources freely and recklessly” ...

• “being wastefully extravagant” ... or simply

• “having or giving something on a lavish scale.”

Now ... obviously ... the REASON that the word of the day is “prodigal” is that this week’s lesson is that story that Jesus told that has come down to us with the label “The Story of the Prodigal Son”.

In fact ... even if we don’t quite know what the word “prodigal” means ... we know that this story is “The Story of the Prodigal Son” ....

But how many of us ever actually use the word “prodigal” OTHER THAN in conjunction with this story???

I mean ... the dictionary SAYS you can use the word ‘prodigal’ in sentences like:

“Prodigal habits die hard” ... or

“The dessert was crunchy with brown sugar and prodigal with whipped cream” ...

But does anyone REALLY talk like that?

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Anyhow ... I trust you’ve heard this story before ....

How ... once upon a time there was a farmer ... apparently a very wealthy farmer ... who had two sons.

And the younger of them came to his father one day and demanded: “Give me my inheritance” ...

And ... for some reason ... the father divided the estate between the boys.

Not many days later ... having cleared out his room and gathered up his possessions ...

The younger son hit the road for the big city ... and promptly squandered his not-insubstantial bank-roll on every vice imaginable ... such that he was broke.

But after the idiot had spent everything he had ... a severe drought swept through the land ... and he found himself starving.

Anyhow ... the younger son got so desperate that he went and hired himself out to one of the locals ... who sent him out to feed the pigs.

And he actually found himself dreaming about chowing down on the slop he was charged with doling out to the swine!

But “Mister Down-on-His-Luck” found himself reminiscing about life back home ... and realizing how good he’d actually had it in the first place.

And he got to thinking ...

“Dad’s no fool. He’s been through droughts before. He always kept enough in the storehouse for everyone to have plenty to eat. His hired hands have got plenty of bread right now ... but I can’t even get a belly-full of pig chow!”

“I got an idea. I’ll pack up and head back to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me one of you hired hands.’ At least that way I won’t have to die in this hell-hole!”

And thus he got up ... and started the long trek toward home ... and all the way there ... he rehearsed and worked on what he was going to say to the old man.

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Now this is where the story gets interesting ....

While Number Two is still a far ways off ... his dad notices him coming down the road ... in all likelihood because the old guy hadn’t taken an eye off that road ever since his second son had left home in the first place! ...

And ... overcome with emotion ... takes off running down the road to meet him.

And when they meet ... the son launches into his carefully rehearsed speech ... “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am no ...”

But the dad ... for his part ... says “Boy, shut up and let me look at you! For you are literally a sight for sore eyes!”

• And he orders one of his farmhands to run into the house and fetch his best robe and some sandals ...

• And another to get a fancy ring out of the jewelry box ...

• And another to set the table which the fancy dishes and to crack out a couple of bottles of his best wine ...

• And another to slaughter that fat young calf that they’d been saving for a party.

For “This son of mine was dead ... but now he lives! He was lost, but now he’s found!”

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Meanwhile ... the older of the two brothers ... Mister-Goodie-Two-Shoes ... has been out working the fields.

But come quittin’ time ... as he nears the house ... he hears the sound of a party and asks one of the hired hands what’s going on:

“Your little brother came home ... and the old man had ‘em kill the fatted calf ... and from the sounds of it ... it’s getting pretty rowdy!”

Now the older brother ... who’s sort of a self-righteous stick-in-the-mud ... is livid at what he hears and he decides to boycott the festivities.

And when Dad eventually catches wind of what’s happening outside ... he goes out and pleads with his older son to join the party.

But Son-Number-One is peeved:

“Look here, Dad ... I’ve worked for you all these years and never once have I disobeyed your orders ... and you never gave me so much as a goat so I could party with my friends.

But when this no-account son of yours shows up ... you go and kill the fatted calf!”

Then the father said to him:

“Hold on a minute, son! Don’t you know by now that that you are always with me and that everything I have is yours. But we just had to celebrate ... for this brother of yours was as good as dead but now he lives ... he was lost but now is found!”

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Now ... truth be told ... there are lots of fascinating quirks ... and twists and turns ... and curiosities ... about that story.

Like how it is that the father notices the son coming down the road “at a great distance” ...

And how the older brother can’t bring himself to acknowledge his own relationship with his brother when he calls him “that son of yours” to his dad ...

Stuff like that.

But I THINK that what puzzles me most of all is the title that we append to that story in the first place!

“The Story of the Prodigal Son” .....

You see ... who is it that is the REAL prodigal in the tale??

I mean ...

Is the younger son a prodigal ... as in “exceedingly or recklessly wasteful”????

You bet he is!

He burns through his thick wad of bills and his long line of credit at the bank in no short order ...

But is he the most extravagantly wasteful actor in this tale ....

I think not!

And ... for that matter ....

Is the older brother a prodigal???

Maybe not at first glance ... for he’s a fine upstanding citizen. Physically strong. Mentally awake. Morally straight. The consummate “family-values” sort of guy.

But there’s a dark side to Mister-Goodie-Two-Shoes ... is there not??

In a certain way ... the story reveals that the older brother is as much of a jerk ... in his own way ... as the younger!

One who squanders NOT his financial resources ... but his spiritual and emotional and relational ones.

In his own self-righteous, contemptuous sort of way ... the older brother is as wasteful of his social capital as the younger brother is of his financial capital !

But is he the most extravagantly wasteful actor in this tale ....

Again I think not!

I mean ... think about it!

Is it possible that the real prodigal in this story is neither the younger brother ... nor the older brother ... BUT THE DAD???

I mean ... if “prodigal” really means exceeding and recklessly wasteful ... isn’t the Dad in the story the most exceedingly and extravagantly wasteful of them all??

• He goes WAY overboard in terms of his party-planning when son-number-two shows back up at home ...

• He goes WAY overboard in terms of what he grabs from the closet to put on him ...

• He goes WAY overboard in terms of ever letting him have his portion of the inheritance in the first place!

Not only that ... but both of those boys ... no matter what they did or what they failed to do ... seem to get more than their fair share of love from their love-crazed Daddy.

He’s ready to squander absolutely everything he owns and has and is on the well-being of those two boys!

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You see ... what Jesus seems to be saying in this story is that both the sons win ...

• the jerky younger brother wins ...

• the jerky older brother wins ...

Both of them come out winners ... with a place at the table ... and rings on their fingers and money in the bank ...

Not because of who they are ... BUT BECAUSE OF WHO THEY HAVE FOR A DAD.

But ... the again ... maybe what Jesus REALLY seems to be saying in this story is not that those boys have a prodigal father ... but that you and I have a prodigal father.

That ... no matter what we do or what we’ve done ... that we receive far more than our fair share of love and grace and goodness and abundance from our love-crazed father in heaven.

And that all we can say in the face of God’s exceedingly wasteful and extravagant goodness to us is something akin to “Wow, Lord! Thanks!”

“Who’s the Prodigal?” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with worship on the 3rd Sunday in Lent.  The text upon which it is based is Luke 15:11-32 — the so-called ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’.