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The Lost Son

October 18, 2021 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 15:11-20 (NRSV)

Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ So he set off and went to his father.

Focus

Sometimes we feel as if we are lost; not physically lost, but lost emotionally, relationally, spiritually. The experience of painful losses in life can lead us to feel as if we ourselves are lost, without moorings, purpose, or love. We can even feel as if somehow, we have lost our connection with God. Our experience of lostness prepares us for the experience of foundness. Lostness readies our hearts to be found by God.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

We know the parable of Jesus in Luke 15:11-32 by the familiar title, “The Prodigal Son.” Many of us, however, aren’t quite sure what the word “prodigal” means. I was in college when I first learned that “prodigal” means “wasteful” or “extravagant.”

“Prodigal” accurately describes the behavior of the younger son in Jesus’s parable. He takes his inheritance and lives extravagantly. In time, his wastefulness catches up with him and he has nothing left. He ends up envying the food he was forced to feed to pigs . . . not exactly an honorable situation for a young Jewish man. His prodigality cost him dearly.

It seems curious to me that we refer to this particular parable of Jesus as “The Prodigal Son,” though I grant that this adjective is fitting for that character. After all, Jesus doesn’t actually refer to the younger son in this way. Twice in the parable, however, the son is called “lost” (Luke 15:24, 32). Moreover, Luke 15 is a whole chapter about lost things: the lost sheep (15:3-7), the lost coin (15:8-10), and, finally, the lost boy (15:11-32). So, although the younger son in this story certainly was prodigal, it seems to me that Jesus emphasized, not his wastefulness, but his lostness. He was a lost boy.

Of course, the younger son wasn’t lost in the sense that he didn’t know where he was or how to get home. Rather, he was lost morally, relationally, and spiritually. He had lost contact with his home and family, with the community in which he had lived. He lost the moorings that helped him to live decently, the guardrails that kept him going in the right direction. For this reason, the younger son lost not only his money but also his dignity. It’s hard to imagine a more dishonorable position in life for this young man than being a starving pig feeder.

As a pastor, I have known people whose lostness reminded me of the lost son in Jesus’s parable. These days, that degree of lostness is often associated with drug addiction. Most of us aren’t lost to that extent, thanks be to God. But, if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us have experienced lostness to some extent. Maybe we still feel lost in a way.

The experience of painful losses can make us feel as if we ourselves are lost. Folks who have lost a spouse or a child, for example, can feel a deep sense of lostness. That can also happen to people who lose a job or a close friend or a church. We may not be engaged in prodigal (wasteful) living. But we may feel lost, cut off from family, friends, work, church, purpose, joy, and even God.

If I didn’t know where Jesus’s story of the lost boy was headed, I don’t know if I’d feel free to consider my own lostness. It might be too scary, too painful. But knowing that this parable doesn’t end with lostness gives me confidence to think and pray about my own life. I remember times when I felt painfully lost, times when hope had disappeared. I remember times of loneliness and exhaustion. I remember times when God felt very distant and I didn’t know how to bridge that gap. Thinking about these times isn’t meant to drag me down today, however. Rather, as I reflect on my experiences of lostness, I also remember what it’s like to be found. And my heart opens to the possibility of being found once again, even today, in new ways.

Reflect

Have you ever felt “lost” in life? Have ever felt as if you can’t find your way back “home,” back to a life of meaning, purpose, and love? If so, what was that like for you?

Have you ever felt as if you were lost from God? If so, what was that like?

As you think about your life today, do you feel lost in a way? If so, what is your lostness all about?

Act

If you have a safe place to share—perhaps a small group, a wise friend, or a spiritual director—talk about any experience of lostness that you’ve experienced. This could be in the past, or it could be right now.

Pray

Lord Jesus, thank you, once again, for this amazing parable. Thank you for inviting me into the story, that I might see myself in new ways, and that I might experience your grace in new ways.

Lord, though I can be wasteful at times, I’m not really a prodigal. But I can relate to the feeling of being lost. I remember times when I felt so cut off from things that gave my life meaning and joy. I remember times when I was very far away from you and when it seemed like you were very far away from me. Thinking of those times helps me to appreciate, once again, the grace of being found by you.

Today I want to pray for folks I know who are lost today. For some, their lostness is mainly about feeling empty, lonely, or hopeless. Others I know are grieving painful losses. And still others are caught in the grip of addictions. O Lord, I pray that you will find those who are lost, drawing near to them, embracing them with your love. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Father


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