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’. 🙂