Let Us All be Prodigals

I’ve read the story of the Prodigal Son dozens of times. As most do, I suppose, I’ve related to the son as myself, sinner who has wasted away too much of life in the pursuit of those things that are at best fleeting and unsubstantial.

But I have a confession to make. I never actually knew what the word prodigal meant. In today’s reading of this well-known parable, I noted that fact. What does prodigal actually mean I wondered.

A bit later I was reading from Cynthia Bourgeault’s book Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, when serendipishly, I ran into this fairly rare word again, in a very different context. Well you don’t have to hit me over the head. I scurried to look it up.

Prodigal means reckless giving, giving abundantly, without much thought. It is usually used in a negative way to connote profligacy, wasting of resources. And indeed in the parable that is what is referred to. The son wastes through thoughtless spending, his entire inheritance in a short while.

But in the other instance, prodigal was used quite differently. It was a quotation of theologian Karl Rahner, who likened God’s creation of the universe to a radical outpouring: “the prodigal who squanders himself.”  In other words, Creation is the outpouring of  the boundless love of God.

And indeed, one can see Jesus’ entire life and ministry as this same squandering of self. Jesus offered all that he had in pursuit of bringing the Kingdom to God’s people. Whatever he did, whether it was dine with sinners or die on the cross, he did with radical abandonment of self. It is known as kenosis–self emptying.

We, as disciples of the Christ are called upon to give abundantly of ourselves. We are asked to love radically and recklessly. Our compassion is to know no boundaries, no limitation. When we enter into our deepest prayer, we empty ourselves of our concerns of any kind, and we immerse ourselves in that endless pool of love that is ever outpoured unto us by God.

There is endless peace, endless unity, endless comfort.

So be a prodigal today. And see if you don’t find a home in the Kingdom.


** Might the real prodigal here be the father? Just askin’. 🙂 


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jerry
    Mar 26, 2011 @ 12:04:48

    Sherry, loved your post ….I thought I knew what prodigal meant, but guess I didn’t. Thank you for looking it up:-) When reading the Gospel this morning, I was compelled to read it aloud to Craige (he was on the toliet — so he couldn’t run from me – LOL) He continued to sit there:-) for a minute and said — “Hmmm… so it’s all about forgiveness, huh?” I said, I guess so.

    The father is the one that gave everything. The youngest son wanted cash and the father gave it, he split and blew his wad on wine, women and song and when he bottomed out — in this case, a Jew feeding the pigs and wanting some of their slop… he decided to crawl back home. Of course, the all-giving all-loving father welcomes him back with open arms and a fattened-calf-feast and the older brother who thought he was doing the “right” thing was pissed. The father again gave of himself telling his son, that what’s mine is yours. I think the older son was still pissed off. It seems to me that even though he spent all that time with his father, he didn’t really know the man. We all know how that can happen. Was the father the prodigal? Yep…I get it. He obviously suffered from a major case of kenosisitis:-)

    OK…I’ll play the prodigal today and send you a big batch of love. jer….


    • Sherry
      Mar 26, 2011 @ 14:20:06

      It was an interesting morning as I looked up that word. Of course we always think of it as being wasteful, and certainly the son was so, the father was wasteful of his love and that is what God is. So it gave me an entirely new take this morning, and that’s a good thing! I got your great e-mail about the kids letters to God…thank you sooo much. How delightful.


  2. Tim
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 11:42:54

    Sherry, this is tremendous. I once heard a preacher say the Prodigal Son “ran to ruin,” which made me itch a little. I’d always romanticized him as a youth in search of himself–which ends when his wasteful spending finds him in despair. But your insight brings everything full circle. The son’s behavior is learned from his father; of course he gives everything he has away–it’s how he was taught to live! It also explains the older brother’s disdain. No doubt, he’s felt cheated much of his life, watching his father’s generosity encroach on his possessions and sense of security.

    And, oh, how right you are. Let’s all be prodigals! Such a blessing this is!

    Peace and joy,


    • Sherry
      Mar 31, 2011 @ 14:51:39

      I hadn’t thought of it…you are right…the son mirrors the father! lol..There is a lot to unpack here as they say. I never thought much about the other son, but aren’t so many us like that? Fair is a word we think of a lot.


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