For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s one of the best-known stories Jesus told. Maybe what resonates so clearly for us in the story is the universal thread running through it.
We know what it’s like to get lost.
We know what it’s like to make a mess of things.
We know what it’s like to swallow our pride and admit that we were wrong.
And we know the desperate longing for redemption and another chance at life.
It will always be one of my favorite stories.
Having said that, I’ll admit this much. I went for years without knowing what the word “prodigal” even meant. I guess I just assumed it was the proper name for the story, part of a handy cataloguing system so Jesus’ followers could request his greatest hits. But Jesus never named the parables he taught. We did that over the years. And at some point along the way, we decided this one would be named after the youngest son.
The word literally means “recklessly extravagant.” It’s a description of how the young man lived when he went off to the far country. He wasted his father’s money. We don’t know exactly what he spent it on, but we know it was foolish. It was careless and irresponsible. It was recklessly extravagant.
I think the word “prodigal” is a great one for this story. I’m just not so sure it’s best applied to the younger brother in the parable. As I’ve learned to read the story, it’s not so much about either son as much as it is about their father.
He’s the one risking his own reputation.
He’s the one waiting up all those long nights, searching the horizon for the one he loves.
He’s the one who continues to feed the fatted calf.
He’s the one who keeps the musicians on speed dial on the off-chance that his beloved child comes home.
The father, not the son, is the real prodigal in the story. And he loves with a love that is recklessly extravagant.
This past week Jessica and I were trying to find a song for her to sing in worship. We knew we wanted it to reflect some of these same themes from parable. But we weren’t having any luck — there just wasn’t anything we fell in love with.
I haven’t written much music in recent years. And most of the songs I have written in that time have taken months to complete. But this felt different. I sat down on the couch… hacked out a few words and paired them with chords… then I shared it with Jessica in the hope that she could bring it all together. In about 20 minutes, we had a song to share.
It’s simple. It is. There’s nothing complicated about it at all. But I like that it’s simple and uncluttered.
It gives room for something recklessly extravagant to resonate.
I’ve seen all the good you’ve squandered
I’ve seen all the pain you bear
The many broken miles that you’ve wandered
Your doubts about if any good’s still there
But grace has paved the road you travel
The heart within you is my own
Every child of mine is welcome at this table
I’ll be here when you come back home
It’s not so much the losing of direction
But losing who you are along the way
And still this holy heart of great affection
Watches for the one who’s gone astray