October 24, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 15:20-24 (NRSV)
So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
The parable of Jesus we know as “The Prodigal Son” could actually be called “The Prodigal Father.” The word “prodigal” means extravagant or lavish. The centerpiece of Jesus’s parable is the extravagant, lavish grace given by a father to his wayward but returning son. In this picture of the father’s merciful and abounding generosity, we see clearly how God relates to us.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
We know the parable of Jesus in Luke 15:11-32 as The Prodigal Son. The parable gets this name from the younger of two sons who took his inheritance and “squandered it in dissolute living” (Luke 15:13). That’s a pretty accurate picture of prodigality, which the dictionary defines as extravagance or wastefulness.
I’ve suggested that this parable might better be called “The Lost Son,” since it comes in a chapter featuring lost things (sheep, coin, son) and since that’s the language Jesus uses to describe the younger son (Luke 15:24, 32). But one could make a strong argument for another title using the word “prodigal” . . . The Prodigal Father. Tim Keller chooses a version of this title for his book The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of Christian Faith. As he describes the actions of the father in Jesus’s parable, he writes, “[The first part of the parable] demonstrates the lavish prodigality of God’s grace. Jesus shows the father pouncing on his son in love not only before he has a chance to clean up his life and evidence a change of heart, but even before he can recite his repentance speech. Nothing, not even abject contrition, merits the favor of God. The Father’s love and acceptance are absolutely free.”
One might truly say that the prodigality of the father in this parable reveals the prodigality of God. That might sound strange if you tend to think if the word “prodigal” as meaning something like “wayward” or “rebellious.” But, remember, “prodigal” actually means something like “extravagant” or “lavish.” The father in Jesus’s story was certainly these things.
We see the father’s prodigality emphasized in verses 20 to 24. He is prodigal when it comes to compassion since he is “filled with compassion” (Luke 15:20). He is prodigal in his demonstration of love for his returning son, since he “ran and put his arms around him and kissed him” (15:20). The father is prodigal in his welcome in that he clothes his son, not just with any garment, but with the “best” robe and the family’s signet ring (15:22). His prodigality extends to the party celebrating his son’s return, since he serves up the special “fatted calf” for his son and the party’s guests (15:23-24).
Tim Keller is surely correct in his claim that the father’s response to his younger son “demonstrates the lavish prodigality of God’s grace.” If you need more than Luke 15 to show the extravagance of grace, consider these passages from Ephesians:
God’s “glorious grace” is “freely bestowed on us” in Christ (Ephesians 1:6).
In Christ we have redemption and forgiveness, “according to the riches of [God’s] grace that he lavished on us” (1:7-8).
In the future, God will show “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (2:7).
If Paul had written Ephesians in English, he might well have spoken of the “prodigality” of God’s grace.
How does all of this strike you? Can you see yourself as the younger son in Jesus’s parable, welcomed back in the loving arms of God? Do you find your heart soaring with gratitude as you consider God’s extravagant grace? Or do you hesitate? It’s sometimes hard for folks whose parents have been less than gracious to believe what Jesus reveals about God or to experience the matchless grace that is theirs through Christ. If you’ve known people to embrace what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace,” grace without discipleship, grace without accountability, then you may worry about emphasizing the lavishness of grace. Yet, the biblical understanding of grace is that it leads to genuine repentance and new life. It moves us to live for the praise of God’s glory (Ephesians 1:11-14). It makes it possible for us to be created anew in Christ for the good works God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10).
To be sure, there’s a risk inherent in prodigal grace. But it’s the risk God chose to take. That’s what Jesus shows us in the parable of the lost son. And that’s what God reveals most of all through the death of his Son for our sake. Amazing grace. Matchless grace. Marvelous grace. Yes, even prodigal grace.
What do you think about calling this parable either “The Prodigal Father” or “The Prodigal God”?
Do you think of God’s grace as being extravagant and lavish?
When have you experienced God’s amazing and glorious grace?
Set aside some time to read slowly the parable in Luke 15:11-32. As you read, use your imagination to “get inside the head” of the younger son. What would he have experienced as his part of the story unfolds? How might he have reacted to the prodigal grace of his father?
Lord Jesus, thank you for telling this amazing story. There is so much here to think about, so much to take into my heart.
As I reflect on what the father did with his younger son, I am once again astounded. The lavishness, indeed, the prodigality of the father’s grace is so unexpected, so striking, so wonderful.
Help me, Lord, to experience the lavish grace of my Heavenly Father. May this grace fill my heart and transform my life. May I live in gratitude for the grace of God, giving my whole self as a response of 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: Best of Daily Reflections: Hope for the Formerly Faithful
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.