…and there squandered his wealth in wild living.
– Luke 15.13 (again)
It’s interesting, slowing down and reading the same passage each day. I would normally have passed over this and indeed nearly did so again today. However, as I was about to move on to think about the famine in the land it occurred to me that the younger son ‘squandering his wealth’ is not just in contrast to the numerous examples in scripture which advocate sensible stewardship of money and wealth, but it’s in direct contrast to the previous story some 5 verses prior!
Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.” In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’
– Luke 15.8-10
Ooo, where to start and what to say!
First, there’s the obvious contrast between the attitude the woman has to the coins (each one would apparently be equivalent to about a day’s wages) and the son’s attitude to his wealth. Perhaps this contrast could be down in part to the way in which they have accumulated their wealth. The association with wages suggests that the money has been earned; it has been worked for and thus is not just equivalent to its material value, but also the time and effort it has taken to earn. By contrast, the younger son has earned his infamous title of ‘prodigal’; wastefully and extravagantly spending money he has claimed from his Father.
It doesn’t take much effort to recall to mind the extravagance of more contemporary examples of heirs and heiresses which act similarly!
Secondly, it’s important to note that the role the wealth plays is different in these two stories. In the story of the lost coin, the focus of the story is the recovery of the wealth and it is by this that the Gospel joy of heaven is illustrated. However, in the story of the prodigal son we move beyond the recuperation of lost wealth and instead start with the theme of a repentant sinner! This story then takes that theme and plays it out in this narrative of a son who is estranged from his father and their eventual reconciliation. By doing this, Jesus shows us that repentance itself and the resulting joy of heaven isn’t quite the full story. The joy which is common to both the Father and the angels of Heaven is based on the act of repentance by the one who has sinned against him, but this joy is completed by the reunion of the Father with his loved child; this joy is nothing less than the embrace by the Father of his child in Luke 15.20:
…But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for them; he ran to his child, threw his arms round them and kissed him.
– Luke 15.20
And to think, I nearly skipped over that verse today.