There are two types of people in the world: prodigals, and those who love them. Or so I always thought.
“The younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living,” said Jesus in his story of the lost son (Luke 15:13).
There is the essence of prodigality and the great downward movement in this superb parable. Impatient, impetuous, dreaming of the more that lay just over the horizon, the Prodigal set of for a far country and there staged the mother of all orgies.
Prodigals are the people who have partied hard, thrown away money, blown up friendships, and had the word regret branded on their forehead.
Others stay at home and pray for prodigals—or resent them. They stand by the door, like the father in this story, waiting for the wastral child to return. Or they go to work every day, like the older brother, resenting the casual decadence of their siblings or neighbors.
Some people are prodigals, and some people deal with the mess they create.
Yet that thinking would segregate the world too handily into categories of righteous and unrighteous, something Jesus never allows us to do because of our penchant for over-labeling ourselves.
There is a prodigal in each one of us, and there are many far countries and many kinds of wastefulness.
This story is not a fence for separating sheep from goats. It is a mirror that exposes the prodigal nature in each one of us.
Who hasn’t wasted the grace God has given?
Who has perfectly stewarded each opportunity for growth and maturity?
Where is the person who has never indulged a secret sin, even lavishly, squandering God-given energy on jealousy or lust or material things?
Some prodigals find the far country in Las Vegas. Others run to a manicured suburb or gleaming office as the place to indulge their greed or hubris or ambition, wasting their inheritance of grace in the wanton pursuit of success or wealth or affirmation.
The prodigal at least knew when he was beaten. Many of today’s errant sons and daughters pursue goal after goal, bonus after bonus, entertainment after entertainment, never knowing how bankrupt and friendless they truly are.
Here is the hope in Jesus’ story. Here is his grand vision for the world, and for you. There is no country so far that return is impossible. There is no sin so great—or so secret—that it cannot be forgiven. And for every prodigal son and daughter, there is a prodigal father, ready to lavish grace and reconciliation and blessing, if only they would come home.
Some the question is not whether we are among the prodigals or among those who love them. It is whether we will recognize prodigal within ourselves and turn our hearts toward home.