What does “prodigal” mean? I’m a writer and editor, a lifelong well-trained wordsmith. I’m 58-year-old who learned the story of the Prodigal Son as a kid and has heard countless sermons about it since. But until today, I assumed it meant something like “wayward.” The Parable of the Wayward son.
But that’s wrong. “Prodigal” means doing something lavishly, with wasteful extravagance. Donald Trump is totally prodigal.
In the parable, the son was prodigal in blowing his inheritance. But as James Martin points out (in what I read this morning from “Jesus: a Pilgrimage”), perhaps it should be called the Parable of the Prodigal Father.
When the son returns, even before the son can express any remorse for his recklessness, his father runs out and, full of compassion, embraces and kisses him. Then he has his son clothed in the best robe, puts a ring on his finger, kills a calf in his honor, and throws a big celebration. As Martin says, the father is “lavish, extravagant, and overly generous.”
Jesus never called it the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Many lessons can be drawn from this story, and I’ve heard most of them. But perhaps a key point was the father’s prodigal nature. Jesus was saying, “Here’s what the Heavenly Father is like. Even before you have a chance to repent of anything, he’s all over you with his love. Point yourself in his direction, and you’ll find out.”