In his book the Prodigal God, Timothy Keller takes another look at Jesus’ well-known parable of Luke 15. The heading someone put in our Bibles perpetuates the idea that this is a heartwarming story about the departure and return of an immature and self-centered little brother. But it is really the complicated story of a family pulling apart because everyone is a prodigal.
Getting all of Jesus’ meaning out of the story depends on understanding the definitions of prodigal. Most people interpret the parable with the first definition in mind: “Rashly or wastefully extravagant.” That is the nature of all prodigal sons and daughters. But there is a second definition: “Giving or given in abundance; lavish or profuse.” That defines the father in the story and the nature of our prodigal God.
One way or another, we are all “prodigalish.” We’re like the younger brother. We disrespect our heavenly Father whenever we indulge our unrighteousness and wander off to be selfish. Or we’re like the older brother. We disrespect our heavenly Father when we indulge our self-righteousness by thinking we are morally superior to the people who wander off. Either way, we put our heavenly Father in a very tough spot. In order for him to accept any of us, he needs to be prodigalish too. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).