The dictionary says “Prodigal” means “wastefully extravagant”.
Carelessly throwing money away.
Or “richly generous”.
For example, “the dessert was prodigal with cream”.
Lots and lots of cream.
Here’s how Bible experts describe The Prodigal Son:
“The pearl and crown of all the parables” – the best!
“The Gospel within the Gospel” – the whole good news is here.
“The greatest short story in the world”
There are Prodigal Son plays, operas, ballet dances. 
Many bands have sung the story.
Not just Christian: also the Rolling Stones and Billy Idol and Iron Maiden! 
There are “Prodigal Son” movies – from Christian to Hong Kong kung fu! 
And there are many books. 
In 2000, Oprah Winfrey asked Hillary Clinton, what is your favourite book?
She said a book by a priest about a painting by Rembrandt: 
The Return of the Prodigal Son. (Henri Nouwen, 1992)
Let’s turn to Luke chapter 15.
There are three stories here. 
First a lost sheep, then a lost coin.
The third story starts, “A man had two sons.”
Three main characters.
I have brought them along to each make a speech,
to share their side of the story.
Speech One: the Younger Son in the Pigsty
11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate [= property] now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine [= no food] swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry [= needing to eat] that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned [= done what is wrong] against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy [= not good enough] of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ Luke 15:11-19
I never knew the meaning of the word before.
Every night I partied with my friends at the best restaurants.
I said to them, “Order whatever you want.
Steak and chips.
Kimchi or caviar.
Birds nest soup, Bluefin tuna.
Whatever you want. I’ll pay.”
I had a lot of friends.
Until the night my credit card was refused.
I went to the bank: “What’s going on?”
My account was empty.
I rang my friends: “Can you help?”
All of them hung up.
I sold all that I had to pay my bills.
I searched through restaurant rubbish bins to find food.
And then came the famine.
No one threw out food anymore.
The only way I could survive was to get this job feeding pigs.
It’s muddy and grubby, messy and mucky.
And the smell!
But even worse:
For Jewish people, pigs are unclean – I shouldn’t touch them. 
I feel so ashamed. 
And I feel so hungry.
Rotten tomatoes, mouldy potatoes.
Old banana peels and apple cores.
The pigs eat better than me.
Last night, for the first time in a long time,
I remembered home.
Here, I’m starving to death.
In my father’s house, even the servants eat well.
Here, I’m in rags. I’m cold at night.
In my father’s house, I had warm clothes.
Here I sleep on a board beside pigs.
In my father’s house, I had a cosy bed.
And most of all,
Here in this foreign land,
Nobody knows me, no one cares.
At home, I belonged.
I was safe and secure. I was loved.
In my father’s house. 
Why oh why did I leave?
Wait! Maybe? Could I?
What if I went back?
Would my father chase me away, or would he have mercy?
When I left, I looked back from the hill –
Does that lamp still burn in my Father’s house,
Which he kindled the night I went away?
Did he think to light me home some day? (Christina Rossetti) 
If I went back, what could I say?
“My father, I’m sorry.
I’ve wasted all you gave me.
I was blind.
I’ve been a fool.
I don’t deserve to be called your son.
Could you give me a job in the barn at the back of the farm
Before I die of hunger?” 
Speech Two: the Father at the Party
20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced [= hugged] him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began. Luke 15:20-24
I called you together today to share my joy.
I love the way this town celebrates together.
Remember when farmer Abraham won the prize for the biggest pumpkin.
And farmer Isaac’s sheepdog was the best in the country.
Didn’t we celebrate. We were so proud!
And that night last winter.
Shepherd Mike came home and counted his sheep: one, two, three… 97, 98, 99.
One was missing, out there in the cold!
He put his hat back on and went back out over the hills.
He searched for that sheep all night.
Next morning he returned with the sheep on his back,
And the biggest smile on his face.
How we danced for joy that day! (Luke 15:3-7)
And remember last summer.
Mother Vivienne had a necklace of 10 coins from her wedding.
She lost one coin and was so upset!
She lit the lights.
She swept the floor.
She didn’t give up till she found it.
Then she gathered all the ladies to rejoice. (Luke 15:8-10)
Friends, those were good reasons to party.
But today is better than prize pumpkins and sheepdogs.
Something more precious than a sheep or a coin has been lost and found.
You know who I mean: my boy.
I remember the day he rode away.
I wanted to keep him here with me.
But real love sets the loved one free.
I had to let him go.
That night I lit the lamp that hangs at the door.
And it’s been burning ever since.
Every night I fall asleep thinking,
“Maybe he will come tonight.
When he reaches the top of the hill and looks down our street,
He will see the lamp shining.
Lighting the way to welcome him home.”
Every morning when I got up I prayed,
“May this be the day, at last, at last,
When my beautiful boy comes home.”
Every moment I could spare I sat on the balcony.
I watched the road out of town.
Often I saw a man in the distance.
My heart would leap – but no, it’s not him.
This morning was different.
I saw a man on the hill who looked sad and tired.
He walked slowly, as if afraid.
As if he hadn’t eaten for days.
He came a little closer, got a little clearer,
and then I knew: it’s my boy!
I ran. 
Bring a robe of honour to replace these rags.
Not that old one – too cheap.
Not that – too plain.
Bring the best robe, fit for a king, the one embroidered with gold. 
Put a ring of dignity on his finger.
Only a slave goes barefoot.
Put the sandals of a son on his feet.” 
Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes in the morning.
Our crying has turned into dancing. (Psalm 30: 5, 11)
My prodigal son who was lost is now found. 
So it’s time for a prodigal feast.
We’ve cooked cow that’s been fattened to eat. 
We’ve roasted farmer Abe’s pumpkin.
Don’t they smell good?
As soon as my first son gets in from the field,
We’ll carve up the food and feast for joy.
Speech Three: the Older Brother Outside
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends.30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering [= wasting] your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ Luke 15:25-30
I never knew the meaning of the word.
Until I came back in today from slaving in the sun
And found that pig is back.
If you went to your father and said:
“Give me now what I will get when you die.” 
What would he say?
“You can’t wait for me to die to get my money?
Get out of my house with nothing.
I’ll cut you out of my will.”
That would be justice.
That’s what my father should have done.
But my father was too soft.
He divided our land and the pig walked off with a bag of gold.
Every night my father lit that stupid lamp at the door.
What a waste of oil!
And now the prodigal son comes crawling back like a worm,
stinking like a pig.
That good-for-nothing wasted my father’s money on his girls.
He dragged our family name through the mud.
And what does my father do?
He runs down the street – what a disgrace.
No respectable man runs in public.
He honours that pig like a prince.
He kills the fatted calf, invites the whole town,
And throws a rotten party.
I can’t believe it.
Party party party.
That’s all that pig has done the last years.
And what have I done?
Work work work.
Every day I worked in the field from sunrise to sunset.
I managed the farm.
I did everything my father asked.
I never once refused.
But all these years,
He never once gave me a single skinny little goat to have a small meal with my friends. 
Then he gets the fatted calf.
It’s not fair.
It makes me mad.
I could kill that pig in my anger.
Which One are You?
And Jesus gives the father’s reply:
31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’” Luke 15:31-32
This parable is called The Prodigal Son or The Lost Son.
It should really be called The Lost Sons.
Both sons are lost, just in different ways. 
In the far-off pigsty with an empty stomach.
At home with a bitter heart.
Which son is more deeply lost?
Which son is further from the father’s joy?
And the story makes me ask,
Which one of these three characters is most like me?
Where am I, who am I in the story?
What about you?
Can you see yourself in the younger son?
Have you run away from your true home?
Most of us have enough to eat,
But do you share his spiritual hunger?
Are you looking for love and happiness, meaning and freedom?
Trying to find yourself?
But you ended up with pigs?
Have you been there?
Don’t be afraid to return.
As a song called Prodigal says,
Wherever you are, whatever you did
it’s a page in your book, but it isn’t the end
your father will meet you with arms open wide
this is where your heart belongs
Sidewalk Prophets, 2015 
Or are you more like the older son?
Can you understand his anger? 
Maybe you’ve been a good person all your life.
You’ve always done the right thing.
Always worked hard. Always tried.
But somehow, somewhere along the way, you’ve missed out on joy.
The father ran out of the house to welcome his younger son home.
He came out from the party and begged his older son to come.
He has no favourites.
He loves them both.
He wants his whole family at the feast.
Father God wants to embrace you too.
Put your head on his chest and hear his heartbeat of love.
Enter his house and learn to dance.
Let him rejoice over you.
Or maybe you feel like the father in the story.
Someone you love is far from home.
All you can do is keep on hoping and praying.
This story shows you are not alone in your pain-filled love. 
You are sharing the heart of God.
He too weeps and watches and waits.
When the time is right, he will call your Prodigal home.
The lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost sons.
All three stories from Luke 15 show
God cares passionately when people are lost.
Lost in hunger or in anger.
Lost among pigs or in our own pride.
God does all he can to bring us back.
And rejoices like crazy when he succeeds. (Luke 15:10) 
Let’s end with another look at the younger son.
He leaves his home.
He travels to a distant land.
He loses everything he has.
He suffers shame and disgrace.
He is treated like a slave.
He is brought to the point of death.
Does that sound familiar?
Have you heard it before?
It’s the story of Jesus himself!
Except that Jesus was more than hungry.
He descended all the way to death.
Even the most shameful death on a cross.
Remember the definition of “prodigal”?
Wastefully extravagant – spending everything.
Richly generous – like a huge pile of cream.
Doesn’t that describe the father’s celebration?
God is the prodigal father.
And doesn’t that describe what Jesus did for us?
Jesus is the true prodigal son.
He came to the distant land of our sin and shame,
To search for God’s lost sheep.
He spent everything he had,
To find God’s lost sons and daughters.
Wastefully – in the eyes of the older son.
Extravagantly, richly, generously – for those who can see.
He gave his life,
To bring us home with him to the Father’s arms.
My son was dead and has come back to life.
My daughter was lost and is found.
That calls for a celebration.
Let us feast with prodigal joy.
Why did the younger son leave home?
Why was his brother angry?
How does the father relate to each son?
Which characters can you identify with?
What do they show about God the Father and Jesus his Son?
What stops you coming closer to the Father or returning home?
 For a huge range of information, resources and references about the parable from theological, cultural, artistic, and other perspectives, see the website “Parable of the Prodigal Son: An Interdisciplinary Encounter guided by Dr. Lee Magness” at http://www.prodigalsall.com. He supplies a suggested path for studying the parable.
 Titles in some different bibles are: “(Parable of) the Lost Son” (NIV, New Living, Good News). “The Story of the Lost Son” (the Message). “The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother” (NRSV). Commentaries often suggest more interesting titles. Some I’ve seen are: “The waiting father”. “The compassionate father and the angry brother”. “The father and the lost sons”. “How great the father’s love for us”. “The story of the loving father” (William Barclay). “A gracious Father and his two different sons”. From a social science perspective, “A dysfunctional family”. “Lost and found” (for all of chapter 15).
 There were many “prodigal son plays” in the 16th century, and Shakespeare widely referred to this parable, as you can see on Google. There are many references to literary use in The Bible and Literature: A Reader, 2007, David Jasper, Stephen Prickett. There is a similar but different story in Mahayana Buddhism. See The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Christianity and Buddhism by Ernest Valea here.
 Rolling Stones: listen here, lyrics here – on their 1968 album Beggar’s Banquet. 1990 “Prodigal blues” by Billy Idol: watch and listen here, lyrics here. Song by country singer Hank Williams here. The lyrics for Iron Maiden’s 1981 song “Prodigal Son” describing some sort of repentance from the occult here. 2004 “she walked away” by Christian band Barlow Girl: view with lyrics here, lyrics here. Many more cultural references at Wikipedia.
 Like a 1981 Hong Kong kung fu flick! See links to the Prodigal son in film and drama here.
 As well as many Christian publications, eg bestselling Danielle Steel’s The Prodigal Son, and a sci-fi horror Frankenstein: the Prodigal Son. Read James Weldon Johnson’s descriptive poem of the young man losing himself in Babylon here: “Jesus didn’t call these sons by name, / But ev’ry young man, / Ev’rywhere, / Is one of these two sons” “There comes a time / When ev’ry young man looks out from his father’s house, / Longing for that far-off country.” See Rudyard Kipling’s cynical, humorous poem here. More prodigal poems through the links at www.prodigalsall.com. My favourite is a group by Kilian McDonnell here.
 In his youth, Rembrandt painted himself as the prodigal son carousing in a brothel. This more spiritual work showing the glowing light of the old father’s love was painted in the last two years of his life before he died in 1669. Links to other Prodigal Son paintings with reflections here, a portfolio here, paintings grouped by scene in the story here. See photos of the story here.
 The chapter begins, “Tax collectors and other sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!” (Luke 15:1-2). Jesus replies with three stories to show how much God rejoices when “sinners” are saved, and challenge the Pharisees to share this joy.
 You could sum up these stories in four words: Losing. Searching. Finding. Joy. Jesus said there is joy in heaven when a sinner repents. One rabbinic saying was “there is joy in heaven over one sinner who is obliterated before God.”
 “The pig… is unclean for you.” (Leviticus 11:7-8). The rabbis said, “Cursed be the man who would breed swine”.
 “I have desired to go / where springs not fail.” (GM Hopkins)
 He hit rock bottom and found the bedrock of his sonship (Henri Nouwen). He stood in his pride and thought he was a king. He fell to his knees and realised he was a pig. He died, and remembered he was a son.
 Sometimes leaving home is looking for home, and promiscuity is a search for something. The prodigal’s homecoming recalls TS Eliot’s line, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
 The opening lines of A Prodigal Son. Read here.
 “I know I’m not worthy / But tell me there’s mercy for the wanderin’ soul.” Dierks Bentley, “The Prodigal Son’s Prayer”, 2006. Lyrics here.
 Barack Obama’s speech poignantly captured a father’s heart: “Someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around. With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves — our child — is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice. And every parent knows there is nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet, we also know that with that child’s very first step, and each step after that, they are separating from us; that we won’t — that we can’t always be there for them. They’ll suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments.”
 Kenneth Bailey emphasises that a Middle Eastern patriarch will never run in public, it’s such a shameful thing for him to hitch up his robes and expose his legs and hurry. He argues the father is intentionally taking the son’s deserved shame upon himself by running to meet his son before he enters the village and is mocked and shamed by the people. The words for embracing and kissing recall Old Testament scenes: when Jacob and Esau, and later Joseph and his father Jacob, met after long separation (Genesis 33, 46:29).
 “God has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).
Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.” Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by. (Zechariah 3:3-5)
 cf. Genesis 41:42, Esther 3:10, 8:2, 1 Maccabees 6:15
 There is a famous Negro spiritual “All o’ God’s chillun got shoes”. Each verse celebrates a different item we’ll have in heaven: wings, a harp, a crown, and echoing this parable, a robe, and shoes. Read the lyrics in old or modern English, or listen on YouTube here.
I got shoes, you got shoes
All o’ God’s chillun got shoes
When I get to heab’n I’m goin’ to put on my shoes
I’m goin’ to walk all ovah God’s Heab’n
 The wages of sin is death; the gift of God is resurrection. Perhaps suggestively, the Greek word for get/rise up in verse 18 is also used for resurrection from death.
 Robert Farrar Capon sees this calf as a figure of Christ: “it stands around in a stall with one purpose in life: to drop dead at a moment’s notice in order that people can have a party.”
 “Outwardly, the elder son was faultless. But when confronted by his father’s joy at the return of his younger brother, a dark power erupts in him and boils to the surface.” (Henri Nouwen)
 The Old Testament says the first son gets two thirds, with the rest distributed between the younger ones: so the younger son would have received one third of his father’s inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17). Jewish writings warn against distributing one’s inheritance before imminent death, showing that the practice was not totally unknown.
 Several commentators note that in their culture, it was probably the duty of the older son to try and reconcile the father with his youngest son, but he simply remained silent.
 In Greek the father divided his bios between them – his livelihood, giving a hint of dividing his life, his heart. The word for divide is used in Genesis 15:10 where Abraham cut the animals in two for God’s covenant, with the prophecy that his offspring would be aliens in a foreign land (a little like the prodigal son); and Joshua 18:5 for dividing the tribal inheritance.
 Scholars debate whether the Prodigal spent his money on immoral living as the older brother accused, or simply foolishly and wastefully – the Greek for “squandered his property in dissolute living” (verse 13) doesn’t make it clear.
 The Ten Commandments say “Honour your father and mother.” (Exodus 20:12). “Suppose a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father… Then all the men of his town must stone him to death.” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
 The first century Roman poet Ovid wrote about family celebrations, “Let a disloyal brother stay far far away” including one who wants the inheritance and “thinks his father is still too much alive”.
 As Frederick Buechner said, “The fatted calf, the best Scotch, the hoedown could all have been his too, any time he asked for them except that he never thought to ask for them because he was too busy trying cheerlessly and religiously to earn them.”
 If this really is “the gospel within the gospel”, with the Father as Jesus, the younger son representing the sinners that Jesus welcomed, and the older son representing the Pharisees, the ending seems to me fairly clear: the older son will execute his father. Cf the warning to Cain when he is angry with Abel, “Sin is crouching at your door.” (Genesis 4:7)
 It has been suggested that as Luke was a friend of Paul he thought of Paul as the quintessential older son. “Blameless, according to the law” (Philippians 3:6) – keeping all the father’s commands, and yet with a hard heart, until the road to Damascus – showing there is hope for every resentful elder son. In several parables the unfinished character is a Pharisee.
 One commentator wrote, “Both sons are stinkers”. Whether the lonely lawbreaker or the loveless law keeper, irreligious or moralistic, both brothers say “I want mine” and break their father’s heart. As Timothy J. Keller wrote in The Prodigal God: “Neither son loved the father for himself. They both were using the father for their own self-centered ends rather than loving, enjoying, and serving him for his own sake. This means that you can rebel against God and be alienated from him either by breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently.”
 As one pastor said, “I won’t know who I am, until I know whose I am.” – The dearly loved son of the Father.
 Based on Hosea 14:1, “Return, O Israel, to your God” the rabbis told a story. It is like the son of a king who travelled 100 days from his father. His friends said, “Return to your Father”. He replied, “I’m not able”. His father sent a message, “Come as far as you can according to your own strength and I’ll come to you the rest of the way”. This illustrates, they said, “return to me and I will return to you.” (Malachi 3:7).
 Lyrics here, watch here.
 Some Victorian retellings of the story had the prodigal coming home, but soon dying of TD or venereal disease – so he doesn’t get off scot-free. The Bible and Literature: A Reader, 2007
 I’m also reminded of Jesus by the older son. Listen to the conversation with his father. “I have never disobeyed your command.” “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” Does that sound familiar? Jesus was with God from the start of time (John 1:1) and he said, “The Father loves his Son and has put everything into his hands… All that the Father has is mine.” (John 3:35, 16:15) “I have obeyed my Father’s commands and I remain in his love… The Father and I are one.” (John 15:10, 10:30). Jesus is the true older son, one with his father. For me this makes the older brother’s failure to rejoice even more sad. And Jesus is the true older brother. The older brother of the story rejected his younger brother, but “Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters.” (Hebrews 2:11) He is “the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:29) Jesus is like the older son, without resentment. Jesus is like the younger son, without rebellion.
 “The Lord will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
 Read Phillip Yancey’s short story “the Runaway”, a moving retelling of the prodigal son here.
 The sheep can’t think for itself. The coin can’t even move for itself. So getting lost is not their fault. The search is much more long and complicated for a wilfully lost son whose freedom of choice is respected by the father.
 The Father in the story is also Jesus himself. The religious leaders complained, “Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2). Exactly what the father does for his lost son!
 Theologian Emil Brunner said of this parable, “Were we really to grasp it with all our heart, our life would overflow with joy and love.”
 Then he rose like the prodigal. With honour and joy he returned. (Philippians 2:6-11)
 See Timothy Keller’s book, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, 2008.
 One scholar wrote, “Joy is the password of Luke’s Gospel” and another “the theme of joy is expressed in a chorus of words and images”: celebrate, joy, rejoice, music, dancing… Some wonder whether the woman spent more than the coin she found on the party, to which one writer replied, “the joy of God has no price tag”, that’s “the folly of God’s grace”.