the prodigal sheep
A pastor once asked me about the title of this blog, and whether by 'prodigal' I mean wasteful, as in the parable of 'the prodigal son'. In truth, the title is a reference to the parables of the lost sheep and the prodigal son, found together in Luke 15 and therefore meant to be read together.
'Which one of you with a hundred sheep, if he lost one, would fail to leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the missing one till he found it?' Luke 15:4 (NJB)
'But the father said to his servants, "Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we will celebrate by having a feast, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found."' Luke 15:22-24 (NJB)
It is often taken for granted that these parables are stories about divine forgiveness or rescue, and how even the most wretched can be lifted out of the mire by a loving God. But in my mind these stories speak far more about the nature of God's love than they do about the state of the lost.
Perhaps the son was 'prodigal' in the traditional sense the word is often used by preachers and writers. But I have heard it said that the true prodigal in this story is the father. The word 'prodigal' itself is not used in the story. But it is an instructive term when applied to the behavior of the father (or the shepherd). As with the parables of the lost coin and the pearl of great price, the subject of the story seeks out that which is lost or forgotten and bestows incredible and extravagant love upon it.
According to various dictionaries, to be prodigal is to be wasteful, rashly extravagant, giving in abundance, lavish, profuse, very generous, munificent, unsparing. What a description of our God! Even for the seeming least among us, God goes to extreme lengths and is unstinting in love and affection for us, sparing no cost and leaving no stone unturned. Compared to the passion for the one lost sheep, it is almost as if God cares not for the other ninety-nine.
For me the revelation of God's extravagant and incomparable love is the heart of the Gospel, the good news brought by Jesus Christ. Wherever and whoever we are, God's yearning and love for us is incomparable, abundant and unconditional.
I've met too many people whom I suspect have never been told that, or at least not believed it to be true for them. How many church people and church leaders have I met too, who believed so fervently in God but could not begin to apreciate God's unconditional grace and love.