You Learn Something New Every Day

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. [Luke 15:22-24]

I learned something today that absolutely surprised me.

It’s not that I’m surprised by the learning, but this particular tidbit totally contradicts something I thought I knew. That’s frustrating. There’s so much I don’t know; if I have to re-learn old stuff I’m never going to make any progress.

You know the parable of The Prodigal Son, right? (Luke 15:11-32) It’s one of the more familiar parables. Long story made short: younger son demands his share of the inheritance, wanders off and squanders it. After taking some demeaning labor just to stay alive, he decides to return home and beg his father for a job. Dad sees him coming, rushes to greet him, and throws a lavish party. Older brother resents Dad’s unconditional welcome.

Scholars frequently refer to the story as The Parable of the Lost Son, partly because the word “prodigal” doesn’t appear in the actual text (I didn’t know that, either) and partly because it’s the third in a series following the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.


But I thought I knew the meaning of “prodigal.” I’ve always assumed that it meant wayward or lost. I’ve referred to myself many times as a prodigal who finally realized that there’s a better path than the one I stumbled along for so long.

Be honest—isn’t that what you thought? Well, it turns out we’re wrong.

When someone told me the actual meaning, I was skeptical enough that I actually looked it up. Then I looked in another dictionary because I still didn’t believe it.

Main Entry: 1prod·i·gal

1 : characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure : LAVISH

2 : recklessly spendthrift synonyms see PROFUSE

Prodigal has nothing to do with being lost. If you knew this, feel free to leave a comment and brag. If you didn’t, I’d appreciate knowing that I’m not the only person who didn’t know.


So there really were two prodigals in the story. The son squandered his money with reckless, wasteful, prodigal spending, while the father celebrated his son’s return with a generous prodigal party.

The point, of course, if that the father modeled God’s unconditional generosity and forgiveness. It’s a wonderful reminder that God always offers a second chance and a new beginning.

So each time I’m prodigal (wasteful) with God’s blessings, He responds with prodigal (generous, lavish) forgiveness.

In fact, the story’s really not about the son at all. It’s about a Father who waits with open arms to welcome us home.

Love never reasons, but profusely gives; it gives like a thoughtless prodigal its all, and then trembles least it has done too little. Hannah More

(Personal note: this new information is actually a big relief. My small group is preparing for a study of Timothy Keller’s book The Prodigal God. I’ve been a little concerned that the book was going to tell me I needed to worry about God getting lost.)

Armed with this new understanding, what are your thoughts about a prodigal God?

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