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The Prodigal God

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sermon for the fourth Sunday in Lent

The common carp lays about three-hundred thousand eggs in one go. That’s a lot! So why aren’t the rivers and ponds absolutely full of carp?

In fact, it’s counted a success if a mating pair of fish see a pair of their offspring to grow up to adulthood. If only two fish survive out of all the eggs the female carp can lay, then that’s a lot of eggs wasted. It seems very wasteful of the common carp.

In our current day and age, we are very conscious about wasting things. Councils have got better at providing recycling for bottles, plastic and paper. Our waste food goes into compost bins and we are encouraged to re-use water in a water-butt. We seem to have a keen eye for spotting where things are wasted.

We know the prodigal son all too well. We see how he wasted his inheritance and leads a life that ends up in the pig-sty. Yet, perhaps we ought to see that his tendency to be wasteful might be genetic. Isn’t the father just as wasteful?


Let’s look at the evidence. First, the father is willing to give up half of all that he possesses for his son to waste, not knowing what he will do with it. Second, when the son does return, the father throws a lavish party for him. No wonder the other son seems put out – he doesn’t get that treatment!

It’s clear that Our Lord tells the parable in order to show how God works, and if that is how God works, then He’s just as wasteful as we are! Surely we can be excused wastefulness if God is like that? Look, He wastes this world on us and He even wastes His Son on sinful human beings!


You know very well that there is something not quite right with that argument. We’re comparing two kinds of extravagance – Gluttony and Generosity – and they are opposites when it comes to the way we deal with the good things that God gives us. What we need to do is to look at the direction of how these gifts are being used. The father of the Prodigal Son gives what he has to His son. The son takes what he has and uses it all up on himself. The father shows Generosity; the son shows Gluttony. Gluttony is a sin that we only seem to associate with eating too much. Eating too much is indeed Gluttony, but it is not all that Gluttony is. C.S Lewis would remind us that we can be gluttonous by insisting that we have a piece of toast which must be done exactly to our desires or not at all.

Gluttony also breeds the sin of Envy in others. If Jacob lavishes his attention on Joseph for his own pleasure and not for Joseph’s own good, then it is natural that the other brothers become envious and thus sell Joseph into slavery. Gluttony and Avarice together divide the world into the “haves” and the “have-nots” and we become obsessed with who has what. We can see this so clearly in Society now. See how many political movements are formed out of envy due to gluttony which is rife in society. See how one group having a significant political power means that another group seek to redress that balance. That’s how political revolutions take place!

The key is that human beings learn to be generous. We need to turn our gifts and belongings outwards to other for the love of each other, not because we are forced to. We need to view the idea of tax as our opportunity to contribute to society rather than something that takes away from what we have. We need to be willing to give of ourselves for the real benefit of others not for how it makes us feel – that’s the mistake that Jacob makes when he spoils Joseph. Gluttony can hide very well. Repentance is key here.


Of course we remember that repentance is more about turning to God than turning away from sin. Turning away from sin is the by-product from turning to God. In turning our point of view out from ourselves and our own good, we turn our gluttony into generosity, and this makes the difference between extravagance and waste. Wasting things robs them of the power to benefit anyone else. Generosity does not rob anyone, it passes along and keeps passing things along until it is stopped by gluttony.

The carp may be extravagant in laying so many eggs, but the ecosystem of the river benefits from that extravagance so that it remains living and beautiful.

The father may be extravagant in celebrating his son’s return, but the son is able to live again and live more wisely to everyone’s benefit.

God is extravagant in grace and mercy. He forgives so freely and even sends His son to die for us so that we might be reconciled to Him, and then He throws a party in Heaven at our return. God so loves the world…

Not only are we to turn our extravagance outwards to other people for their sake, but we need to turn it upwards to God. The more we are extravagant in thanking Him and praising Him, just like the shepherd finding the lost sheep and the woman finding the lost coin, the more we will pass on to our broken, gluttonous, prodigal, and miserable society those abundant gifts of God for all our benefits.

Rather than being wasteful, our extravagance becomes an investment!

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