The Prodigal Father

There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Dad, give me my share of the company.’ So he divided his business between the sons and, taking nothing more than a warm coat, left them.

The younger son squandered all he had been given – drink, drugs and dubious characters. His part of the business eventually went under, he spent every penny he had. He was broke, it was a recession, but he lucked out in finding a job sorting waste at a recycling plant. Sometimes he just wished he could eat the banana skins and chip wrappers there, he could barely scrape enough together to survive.

One day he heard that his father was back. With no time to plan, he ran from work, into the street, up to his father. Through tears he blurted out, ‘Dad, I screwed it all up, I wrecked all you gave me and I never thought I’d get to see you again. You probably can’t even face talking to me.’ Before he could even finish, his father had grabbed him and, stinking work clothes and all, took him in a huge bear hug.

His father called to a guy standing near, ‘Get him a room in the hotel – and a shower! My son will need some new clothes and spending money – tonight’s going to be a party!’

The man had made another fortune while he was gone, so dinner was at the best restaurant in the city – and that guy was his PA. Everyone who had known the father came that evening, it was a real celebration!

While they were there, someone managed to get the older son on the phone and explained what was going on, ‘Your dad’s back, he’s found your brother and they’re hitting the town!’ The father begged him to come and join them, but the older son answered him, ‘Listen! All those years you were gone, I was slaving at keeping your business going. It’s still just as good as the day you left. I didn’t spend a penny of your money – not even one pizza with my friends! But that disgrace of a son destroyed your firm, wasted everything with hookers and now you party with him?!

‘Son’, his dad replied, ‘It was all yours to do what you want with all along. I want to give you more and more – and your brother too. I just want to get our family back together again.’

Define:Prodigal – “Given to extravagant expenditure; expending money or other things without necessity; recklessly profuse; lavish.”

This story is a response to Deus Absconditus, the hidden, or missing God. It was always the father that was prodigal, giving without thought or care apart from love, the son was just lost. In this story, both sons have lost the father. But his character is just the same – giving prodigally, recklessly, lavishly. The difference is that the younger son knows straight away what he’s lost, the older doesn’t. Like the famous original, we never know how he responds to his Dad’s generosity.

I wrote this and then came across Prodigal God by Timothy Keller. His book too is based around the idea that it is the Father that is the lavish, generous one and the real meaning of prodigal.