prodigal son; prodigal child; prodigal

someone who strays away from the expectations of his parents or those watching over him
—We are happy to report that all three of our dogs that ran away have returned home. The last prodigal came back last night.

In the “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” Jesus presents a picture of man’s relationship with God:

A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that will belong to me.” So he divided his assets between them. After a few days, the younger son gathered together all he had and left on a journey to a distant country, and there he squandered his wealth with a wild lifestyle.  Then after he had spent everything, a severe famine took place in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and worked for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He was longing to eat the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. But when he came to his senses he said, “How many of my father’s hired workers have food enough to spare, but here I am dying from hunger! I will get up and go to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired workers.’” So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him. Then his son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Hurry! Bring the best robe, and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Bring the fattened calf and kill it! Let us eat and celebrate, because this son of mine was dead, and is alive again—he was lost and is found!” So they began to celebrate.

Now his older son was in the field. As he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the slaves and asked what was happening. The slave replied, “Your brother has returned, and your father has killed the fattened calf [fatted calf] because he got his son back safe and sound.” But the older son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and appealed to him, but he answered his father, “Look! These many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands. Yet you never gave me even a goat so that I could celebrate with my friends! But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours. It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:11-32)

According to its older meaning, prodigal refers to someone who “spends wastefully or extravagantly.” But because of the theme of this story, prodigal is now more often used for someone who walks away from the correct path.

The “fatted calf,” mentioned above, was the best calf, raised to be eaten on a special occasion. Therefore, kill the fatted calf now means “to have a celebration.”

When the father says, “Let us eat and be merry,” he is using words very close to those said by Jesus in an earlier parable:

The land of a certain rich man produced an abundant crop, so he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to myself, ‘You have plenty of goods stored up for many years; relax, eat, drink, celebrate [eat, drink, and be merry]!’” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded back from you, but who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” So it is with the one who stores up riches for himself, but is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:16-21)

Eat, drink, and be merry is another way to say “celebrate, party, enjoy yourself.”

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