God’s kindness extends beyond His forgiveness. It is wonderful to have our slate of crimes against Him wiped clean, as He “canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us . . . having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). And even as He pardons, He also enriches His children with a lavish array of divine, eternal riches. Jesus delivered a profound picture of this reality in His parable of the prodigal son.
But while [the prodigal son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:20–24, ESV)
Imagine what the scenario surrounding the prodigal’s return looked like from the perspective of one of the household servants. The father suddenly came hurrying down from his watch post. He blew past his own servants, dashed out the front gate, and went running down the dusty road with his robes held up high past his knees. He shot through town without slowing down and without regard to who might be watching. Behind him trailed several servants who would be sprinting to keep up with their master, but with no clue about where he was going or why he was running like that.
The scene was probably comical to some, but it would not have been funny to his servants. They would have found his behavior shameful. It was out of character, disturbing, even frightening. Yet they had no choice but to come along because, as servants from his household, this was their duty.
The servants must have watched in amazement as their master reached his son, embraced him (stinking, pigslop—stained rags and all), and started kissing him as if the boy were a returning hero. Then, almost before the servants could collect their senses, the father looked up, turned to the servants (who were likely huffing and puffing from their sprint), and sent them on a series of urgent errands. The best Greek texts say he preceded his orders with the adverb tachu: “Quickly!” He wanted no delay. It was a matter of the utmost urgency to him, and everything needed to be done as speedily as possible.
As the father gave his orders, it became clear that he was going to hold a banquet for this son who had dishonored him so shamefully. He was planning to treat him the way someone might treat an honored dignitary—with gifts, a full celebration, and the ceremonial bestowal of high privileges.
Somewhat ironically, the word prodigal actually means extravagant. A prodigal person is a big spender who spreads his resources around, mostly for the purpose of merrymaking. The term conveys the idea of someone who is excessively lavish, imprudent in what he spends his money on, immoderate in the speed with which he burns through his assets, and recklessly openhanded with large gratuities.
Suddenly the father, not the wayward son, is the prodigal one:
The father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:22-24, ESV)
Here again, as Jesus told the story, eyes in his audience would have rolled. Not only the Pharisees, but anyone steeped in that culture would have been utterly bewildered by the father's actions. This man had no shame. He had just sacrificed his last shred of dignity by running like a schoolboy to grant free and complete forgiveness to a son who deserved nothing more than the full weight of his father’s wrath.
As if those actions weren’t disgraceful enough, now the father was about to use the very best of everything he owned (and spend a lot of money in the process) to honor the dishonorable boy—who had already managed to sin away a considerable portion of the family’s wealth in the far country. Even if the delinquent boy had truly repented, bestowing costly gifts on him and giving him such an extravagant celebration seemed exactly the wrong thing for this moment.
But the father, undeterred by fear of public opinion, wasted no time getting the party started. Even before the elder brother could be summoned from the fields, the father had called for a robe and a ring. The fatted calf was already being slaughtered for a great feast.
The stunned prodigal son must have felt his head spinning. After everything he had done—and everything sin had done to him—he would hardly be able to grasp what was happening. The villagers likewise would have been completely baffled by the father’s behavior. What was he doing? Oblivious to his own reputation, the father was showering the prodigal son with honor after honor. These were all staggeringly generous favors, which the boy by no means deserved.
Jesus mentions three gifts the father immediately gave his penitent son: a robe, a ring, and sandals. Everyone listening to Jesus’ story understood the implications of those gifts—implications that extend to every true child of God. And we’ll explain what those were next time.
(Adapted from The Prodigal Son)