We nearly always hear the story in Luke 15 referred to as the parable of the prodigal son. When I was a young preacher, a minister I admired preached on that text, and he entitled it, “The Prodigal Father.” His definition of prodigal sent me to the dictionary to make sure he was correct. His sermon also changed my focus on the entire parable.
By the way, just for clarification, here is Webster’s definition of prodigal, “Wastefully or recklessly extravagant; Giving or yielding profusely; lavish; lavishly abundant.” My mentor’s message was right on target.
The father was abundantly extravagant and lavish with forgiveness and grace. Since that time I have been able to glean from that parable the prodigal nature of all three characters. The true hero of the story is clearly the father. He freely, almost recklessly, loves his sons, with no guarantee of their love in return.
The wayward son is prodigal in the sense of being wasteful. He wasted his money and morality, finally coming to his senses in a pig pen. Not a pretty picture, but one often repeated.
Then there is the older brother who stayed home and dutifully served his father. How does the term prodigal fit him? What did he waste? He squandered the joy of his relationship with his father. He saw his relationship as a reward for meritorious behavior. He was lavishly abundant with unforgiveness and a judgmental spirit.
There is one clear lesson among many lessons in the story. Wayward or stay at home prodigals are all welcome to come back to their Father.