Story: Prodigal

When I was in 2nd grade, my sister, Sue, age 16, wisely told me I should read Beverly Cleary’s book, Henry and Ribsy, a classic tale of a boy and his dog. At a mere eight years of age, I could hardly believe I’d be able to read such a long book. But, when I opened the first page, the engaging story swept me away to another place and time. To be honest, I don’t remember much about Henry and Ribsy other than I loved it. There was something about this story that met me where I was and helped me to experience adventure through the rich imagination of my mind.

Since Henry and Ribsy, books have always been with me. Books of humor, mystery,  autobiographies, textbooks and classic tales have whimsically fed me through my awkward teenage years, my turbulent twenties and into my developing thirties. Yet, one book remained a mystery: the good book. The Bible. I heard verses from the Bible in church on Sunday mornings for a majority of life, but, those verses stayed in the holy confines of the church. From my perspective, the Bible looked large, dusty and old. And when the lector read, I found the words boring and stale. This book, written thousands of years before, certainly didn’t seem to relate to me.

But, in my early thirties, something shifted. It began when I started hanging out with community who discussed people in the Bible with personality. Peter was outspoken; Paul was bold and persevering; Barnabas was an encouraging soul. These descriptions intrigued me. Then, I began reading books ABOUT the Bible. These books opened me to slight nuances in this immense, holy book. For example, an author may take one word or phrase from the Bible and explain the original Hebrew or Greek form unlocking a depth of new understanding. I began to see how the Bible is a deep treasure filled with nuggets of gold.

These consistent encounters prompted me to pick up the Bible on my own. Honestly, I had no idea where to begin and I was a toddler fumbling through; slowly I began to observe a few things:

First, I found a verse or two that helped me in rough patches. Verses such as Proverbs 3:5-6 and 2 Corinthians 12:9 gave me strength and comfort. I noticed contradictions urging me to knock on my pastor’s door asking him to help me understand. Then, I, too, discovered the people in the Bible and their wide-array of personalities. Jacob’s deceptive disposition. Lot’s scheming daughters. Joseph’s faith and fortitude. Ruth’s courageous spirit. I tumbled upon disciples who were full of erring ways as I was. I met ancient characters who struggled with relationship troubles like I often did. I encountered despair and anger and sadness and forgiveness and hope in these pages. And, I couldn’t wrap my head around Jesus who willingly suffered. And, that’s when the Bible had me hooked. When I realized the stories in it’s pages were, in actuality, my story. The Bible was not antiquated and out of touch, but the exact opposite. The Bible was the Living Word; written words with Spirit breath blowing on them meeting me where I am in life. When I began to see myself, my reactions, my plight, through the people in this book AND the unrelenting grace and love of Christ who continues to find me, I came to understand why the Bible is so often referred to as the Good News.

With this said, on occasion, I will feature a story or person from the Bible that I’ve connected with and write a short reflection from my own life relating to this. My hope is you, too, will find yourself in the midst of these stories and are encouraged to reflect for the meaning in your life.

adjective prod·i·gal \ prä–di–gəl\
1 characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure :  lavish <a prodigal feast>
2 recklessly; spendthrift <the prodigal prince>
3 yielding abundantly; luxuriant

The Parable of the Lost Son: Luke 15:11-32

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“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.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

I’ve been the prodigal. The younger child leaving home to see what I could find. “What else is out there other than this?” I’ve been selfish, recklessly considering my own needs, ignoring the needs of others. I’ve found myself in dismal situations trying hard to make my own future. I’ve settled for less thinking this was the only way; the only road. I’ve taken jobs draining the very fiber of my being. I’ve longed for the crumbs others enjoy from those who’ve held power: a slight raise, a better position, a pat on the back. I’ve felt the strain of being far away from all I know and the loneliness of noone noticing. From this low place, I’ve recognized others, on the fringe, who’ve claimed this love of God. At first I dismissed it, and upon reflecting, arose the realization that, indeed, I need God. I gathered my nerve and formal prayer to gingerly approach the heavenly throne with my apology.

I’ve been the prodigal. I’ve been the elder son. The one who judgmentally looks at others receiving celebrations and good things, all the while lavishly proclaiming, “It’s not fair”. I’ve been the one working hard, following the rules, doing the “right” thing, staying responsible while others squander what they’ve been given. I’ve been enraged by my own loyalty and the good fortune falling on others who live for noone but themselves.

I’ve been the prodigal. The younger child whose made mistakes, prompting a need to return and apologize to my Sovereign Creator. I’ve been the one who cautiously comes home with my memorized speech to arms open and a celebration in my honor. I’ve been the recipient of unconditional love from a Heavenly Christ who doesn’t wait for my repentance, but rather, scans the horizon, waiting my return. And upon catching a glimpse of me, Christ runs to me, unafraid of what culture deems as appropriate, to wrap me in open arms of love.

I’ve been the prodigal. The elder brother whose heard the words of a bystander telling me a celebration is being thrown for the one whose hurt me deeply. I’ve been enraged and raised my fist at God venting my version of the truth; my version that spits fire and toxins at the injustice of my hard-worked, obedient life. And, in return, I’ve heard the words of a Heavenly Father reminding me I’ve been with Him all along. I’ve had the blessing of knowing Him, walking with Him, hearing Him, delighting with Him.

I’ve been the prodigal. And, still am. Yet, the loving Almighty reminds me wherever I sit, whether I’m lavishly irresponsible or lavishly judgmental; I am lavishly loved. Before my repentance, this is my God, running with compassion, grateful for my return. Grateful for your return. Ready to throw a party.

I give thanks for this God who welcomes and hugs, who loves and receives, who celebrates and reminds. I give thanks for this God who doesn’t shut me out whether I am disobedient and selfish or temperamental and angry. By receiving such love, I know my call is to move forward and love others in this way. While I still have many a day of prodigal child responses, my hope is, over time, those responses become more and more full of grace and love, in similar fashion to my Loving Creator. Amen.

To Ponder:
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Place yourself in this scene. Consider a situation in your life you are repentant for. Contemplate being received before you apologize to a loving God who welcomes you, mistakes and all.

With a Child:
Practice receiving a child with open arms of love the next time they make a mistake. Instead of correction, attempt a hug.

The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller

To experience a nugget of treasure in the Bible, listen to Episode 16 of Rob Bell’s podcast, entitled 19 Letters!, based on one 19-letter word from the Bible, found here.

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