Let me ask you; have you ever been prodigal? Truth be told, I had to look the word up. I assumed all of these years that it meant something like “lost” or “wandering away from.” But instead, it means “wasteful, reckless,” and it is connected to spending habits. So, is it the Parable of the Reckless Spender or the Parable of the Lost Son? It may be just me, but I think “lost son” emphasizes that the story is within a series of stories. You had your lost sheep and your lost coin and your . . . uh . . . prodigal son. Nah, he was lost; in many ways he was lost. So, let me ask you; have you ever been lost? Being lost may lead to prodigal living, but I think the story is about lostness. And I think the main thing this young man lost was relationship; relationship that he carelessly discarded for a reckless adventure. So, let me ask you; have you ever been lost?
I am not generally a fan of dealing with a parable in stages. But there is so much here and this parable can be easily divided into two accounts. And let me throw in some foreshadowing; I think both sons represent loss; but both do not represent prodigal behavior. Luke 15:11-24 is dealing with the younger of two sons. This young man had the audacity to demand his share of the family estate while the father still lived. Its not that this was an illegal request. It was not even an unheard-of thing. Abraham gave Isaac’s half brothers their share and sent them packing. But it would have been a slap in the face. It was more than saying “I can’t wait for you to die.” It was a refusal to use family resources for family, including the care of an aging parent. It was an abandoning of family relationship. What the father divided was “life” or the “things pertaining to life.” It referred to resources necessary for living. That is what the younger son was traipsing off with. For him it was merely something to be converted into money. For the father it was family life resources.
The young man converts his inheritance into cash and goes as far away as he can where he scattered his money around like trash blowing in the wind. And all this scattering was purchasing him reckless living. We assume, because of the older brother’s accusation that this means he wasted his family’s livelihood on immorality. Maybe, but the word merely means he didn’t think things through. He spent his money as if he had no future need. And that, boys and girls, is reckless. And when all the money had been recklessed away, then, all of a sudden there was this intense famine. Nature can sometimes kick you when you are reckless. And he began to experience serious lack. Something he had never encountered before.
The only thing he can do is to attach himself to a farmer. The word for “hired himself out” means “cling to” and seems to imply that he was clinging to this farmer until the man relented and sent him out to take care of the pigs. For a Jewish person, this was the worst possible job. He may have already been unclean; having fraternized with all of those far country folk, but there can be no question now. He is unclean. And it appears that he was not paid enough to buy food. Maybe lodging was his pay. In this destitute, unclean, state, he longs to eat carob pods. This is most likely the type that was bitter and eaten only in extreme need. It was the food of animals and starving people. The wording allows that he may have eaten these pods, but they could not fill him. He was slowly starving.
He comes to himself. In his lostness, he was beside himself; beside himself with running from relationships and responsibilities. He prepares a speech and rises up to go home, hoping to be accepted by the father as a servant; a servant that is better off than he is and freer. Poverty tends to bind. Beyond his dreams, the father sees him coming from a distance. Two words for distance are used to emphasize that he was a long way away when the father saw him. The father has been looking; waiting; longing. And as soon as he knows it is his son, he forgets about societal propriety, hitches up his robe and runs. He falls on his neck and kisses him. All of the filth and hurt and uncleanness cannot compare to a son coming home. He orders that the son be honored as a son – the robe, ring, sandals, and feast are about honoring.
Okay, have you ever been lost? Come home. Like this father, our father will run to meet you and fall on your neck and kiss you home. He will not recoil at the filth or the uncleanness or the hurt. He will honor and throw a welcome home party. Come home to family; to relationship with the father. Glory to God.