Foolish Love is Prodigal
(Week 5)

Scripture: Luke 15:11-32; Matthew 5:38-42
    I had heard the story of the two sons referred to as the Prodigal Son story from the very first moment that someone shared it with me. Even as a perpetual church visitor (I did not join the church until age 25), I went often enough to be exposed to this story. I took for granted I knew what prodigal meant. It had to be someone who was irresponsible and careless and greedy.

    In seminary, though, I was taught to at least sometimes question those monikers given to stories. After all, the titles often put on stories – The Prodigal Son, The Rich Young Ruler, The Raising of Lazarus – were titles that Bible editors added to stories. They were not in the original manuscripts. So, the first time I was preaching on this story, I decided I ought to at least look up this word I thought I knew.  And then imagine my surprise…
Prodigal – 1. spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant; 2. having or giving something on a lavish scale.

     Wait, what?  Ok, maybe I could see the reckless spending. But having or GIVING something on a lavish scale implies unbound generosity. Generosity on a scale that is difficult to measure.

     I suddenly wanted to reconsider this story from two directions. First, I took a hard look at how the so-called prodigal son is described in the story. We actually do not have a reliable account about how the son spent the money. We are told in the narration that “he wasted his wealth though extravagant living.” The word translated as “extravagant” there in Greek is asotos, which can be translated as riotous, extravagant, or prodigal. So there is a recklessness implied there, but we do not know if it was a selfish or generous recklessness.

     We do have one other detail about how the younger son spent his money, but it comes from accusations leveled by a very angry older son. He accuses his brother of spending all his money on prostitutes. But how does he know? As far as we can tell, there has been zero interaction between the two brothers since the younger one left. The older brother is likely either repeating rumors or just saying something to be as hurtful of his brother as he can be.

     Isn’t that a human reaction? When we are hurt because someone has left and seemingly betrayed us, we want to characterize them in the worst light ever! We also are so often not even interested in hearing their story. And we certainly are not of a mind to just wipe the slate clean and take them as they are before us.

     I am reminded of a story my dad would often tell. In fact, it was one of my favorite stories that he told, and I would request it, much to the chagrin of my mother and brother, who did not feel the same way about it as I did. Perhaps you will agree with them in a few moments, but nonetheless, I am going to share it with you anyway. Still, to spare you some of the agony, I will tell the abridged edition.

    There was a little boy whose dad came to him on his fifth birthday. His dad said,
     “Son, you are getting ready to start school. This is a big moment for you. I want to celebrate this important step in your life by getting you a wonderful gift. Anything you want, you tell me, and I will get it for you.”
    “Well, Dad, I’ll tell you, what I really want more than anything else is a green ping pong ball.”
    “A green ping pong ball?” exclaimed his dad, “Why in the world do you want a green ping pong ball?”
    “Well, Dad, I really can’t tell you. I would just really like to have a green ping pong ball.”
    “Well, you can’t have one!”
    The boy was turning sixteen. His dad came to him, wanting to do something to mark this important event. His dad said, “Son, you are getting ready to start driving. This is a big moment for you. I want to celebrate this important step in your life by getting you a wonderful gift. Anything you want, you tell me, and I will get it for you.”

    “Well, Dad, I’ll tell you, what I really want more than anything else is a green ping pong ball.”
    “A green ping pong ball?” exclaimed his dad, “Why in the world do you want a green ping pong ball?”
    “Well, Dad, I really can’t tell you. I would just really like to have a green ping pong ball.”
    “Well, you can’t have one!”

     This went on and on, every important event in the man’s life - his high school and college graduations, his marriage, the birth of his children. Same exchange. Then the day came when his father was dying. His father called his son to his bedside, wanting to clear the air of anything between them. His dad said,
     “Son, I am dying. I want to make sure I have been a good father to you, that you have all you could ever want or need. Anything you want, you tell me, and I will get it for you.”
    “Well, Dad, I’ll tell you, what I really want more than anything else is a green ping pong ball.”
    “A green ping pong ball?” exclaimed his dad, “Why in the world do you want a green ping pong ball?”
    “Well, Dad, I really can’t tell you. I would just really like to have a green ping pong ball.”
    “Well, you can’t have one!” And then his father died.
    The man had a son of his own. When the man was turning 75 years old, his son came to him, wanting to honor his father for all he had done for him. His son said, “I want to thank you for being the father you have been to me. Anything you want, you tell me, and I will get it for you.”
    “Well, son, I’ll tell you, what I really want more than anything else is a green ping pong ball.”
    “A green ping pong ball?” exclaimed his son, “Why in the world do you want a green ping pong ball?”
    “Well, son, I really can’t tell you. I would just really like to have a green ping pong ball.”
    “Well, you can’t have one!”
    The time came for the man to face his own last days. As he lay on his deathbed, his son came to him. He said, “Dad, you have always made sure I had whatever I need. I want to make sure you leave this life without any regrets. Anything you want, you tell me, and I will get it for you.”
    “Well, son, I’ll tell you, what I really want more than anything else is a green ping pong ball.”
    “A green ping pong ball?” exclaimed his son, “Why in the world do you want a green ping pong ball?”
    “Well, son, I’ll tell you. The reason I want a green ping pong ball is…”
    And he died.

     I will give you a moment for whatever you need – groans, curses, or even time to reflect.

     I have reflected often on that story. It has taken me to many places. Today it has me thinking about the conditions we put on giving generously to the people we claim to love. Sometimes they ask for huge things, like the son in the parable asked of his father. But sometimes they ask for tiny things. All too often we put conditions on either case. There are times when limits are a good thing, such as when you are refusing to enable destructive conditions fed by addiction, for example. But there are times that we impose limits out of our own desires for control, or demands of certain results, or our own desires to be honored and respected.

    And it is at this point that I stopped and considered the story from the Father’s point-of-view. This story should not be called the Prodigal Son story. This story is the Prodigal Father story! How reckless is the love, generosity and grace of the father in this story, not just for the younger son, but for the elder one as well! The father gives ridiculous generosity to them both. To the younger he gives his half of the estate, the fatted calf, and the joyful welcome home. To the elder he gives all of the rest of his estate, and personally meets that son where he is in his anger and intentionally invites him to the party anyway.

    That is the kind of father that God is for all of us. Ridiculously, prodigally generous. And then God challenges us through Jesus’ teaching to extend a similar generosity to others. That is the generosity that, as the Matthew passage for this week says, pushes against the kind of retaliatory justice that the elder son and we so often seek, and instead invites us to turn the other cheek, hand over shirt and cape, and literally walk an extra mile for someone.

    There is another ending to the Green Ping Pong Ball story. I graduated from college in the midst of a very hard time for my family. My father was in the midst of fighting a grueling civil rights lawsuit after being unjustly fired for hiring two minority employees. He was unable to find work in the midst of those conditions, and we were all scratching by, collectively pooling resources to keep the family afloat. I did not expect anything for graduation under the circumstances. Yet, my mom and dad each showed up with a gift for me. My mom gave me a coffee cup in the shape of a globe with the countries of the world on it, with a note that that she would give me the world. And my dad gave me a box with only one thing in it – a green ping pong ball – with a note that simply said, “No questions asked.”
     That is the foolish, prodigal love God has for us. And that is the love God calls us to share.  A love of no questions asked.

  • Is there something you always wanted that didn’t make sense to want? What would it mean (or did it mean) for someone to give that to you?
  • What are some things that can be given “No questions asked,” and when do we need to set limits? How do we know which is which?
  • In this week’s video, Rev. Dr. Don Hall reminds us to “Remember, God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Have you experienced that kind of love?


Sunday, March 17
Scripture Reading: Luke 15:11-32; Matthew 5:38-42
     Growing up, I’ve always not fully understood the story of the Prodigal Son. He does extremely stupid things, wastes his inheritance, and then goes back home and his father immediately forgives him and even celebrates! I’ve always sympathized with the brother: “The older brother became angry and refused to go in… ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” I’ve always thought, “How is it fair, how is it just?”
     There is still a little of that inside of me. Those who are faithful always should be rewarded for that, BUT now I am pregnant with my husband’s and my first child. I can’t even imagine not welcoming this little one with open arms if they were to come home after doing even the stupidest of things and apologize and ask for forgiveness. All I can imagine is just being so happy that they are safe and not in danger any longer. That I now have them safe in my care.
      Maybe I’m starting to see a little of what God sees when he thinks of us. He doesn’t care what we did before and is always ready to welcome us back into the fold. All we have to do is just ask for forgiveness and it is given to us… No questions asked, no additional steps required.
     Even further, this is a little like what the second passage asks of us as well: Forgiveness, no questions asked. The harder thing with this is it is asking us to do this not just for our children or the people we love unconditionally, but for everyone. God does this naturally, but we as humans have to struggle and keep striving to get as close to that as possible. Maybe this could be something we try to improve on during this Lenten season: Who can you forgive today?
- Kelsey Sutton

Monday, March 18
Scripture Reading: Mark 10:17-23
     Mark 10:17-23 in the Bible tells a poignant story that illustrates the concept of God's love and the challenges humans face in fully embracing it. In this passage, a wealthy young man approaches Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by reminding him of the commandments, to which the young man claims he has kept.
     Here, we see God's love manifested through Jesus' response. Jesus looked at the man and loved him.
     The phrase "Foolish Love is Prodigal" suggests that when love is reckless and extravagant, it can be perceived as foolish or imprudent. The term "prodigal" typically refers to someone who spends money or resources recklessly and extravagantly, often to the point of wastefulness. Applying this idea to love, it implies that love that is given without caution or boundaries may be seen as impractical or unwise, in worldly views, but that is God’s love.
     How do we show God’s extravagant love to others? The ways are countless; it’s about finding a way and showing up that is difficult.
      Just like going to the gym, serving the community should become a habit that enriches your life and contributes to the well-being of those around you. Over time, it can become an integral and fulfilling part of your routine, offering not only personal satisfaction but also a sense of purpose and a stronger connection to your community.
     In this story the young man shows sorrow at the request of Jesus to let go of attachments that hinder our relationship with God and fellow human beings. This demonstrates the difficulty humans often face in fully embracing God's love, as it requires a willingness to let go of what we hold dear and trust in something greater. It serves as a reminder that while God's love is freely offered, it is our choices and actions that determine our ability to receive and embody that love in our lives.
     Ultimately, demonstrating God's extravagant love to others involves being a conduit for love, grace, and compassion in our daily lives. It's about emulating the qualities of love that are central to many religious teachings and serving as a living testament to God's boundless love for all of humanity.
- Marcie Schock

Tuesday, March 19
Scripture Reading: John 12:1-8
     How often do you find yourself ruminating about how others perceive you? It may be conscious or subconscious, but it is difficult to ignore the incertitude of how those around us view our words and actions. Reflecting on this passage from John, I admire how Mary poured expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus, knowing that others may judge or question why she made this decision. Her all-consuming love for Christ overshadowed any reservations she may have had, compelling her in that moment to anoint Jesus with the most lavish gift that she had to offer. Mary dismissed any concerns and acted in service to Jesus, a gesture that can serve as a reminder to each of us that despite how others see us, it is our job as Christians to cast doubts aside and focus on one thing only: how we will extravagantly love God.
      It is not always easy to boldly serve God, especially in a world where the term “Christian” can sometimes hold a negative connotation. The Bible teaches us that extravagantly generous, or prodigal, love is not only welcome, but necessary. When I think about my family, I ask myself, “is there anything that I would not do to show my love for them?” The answer is a resolute “no.” My love for them is boundless, and I have no trepidation related to how others might interpret this fact. I am certain that others also feel this prodigal love for their families. Why, then, can it be so burdensome for us to display this same type of passion for Christ? The bountiful love that our Lord gives us is the perfect model for how we should love our families (and others). Moreover, God’s outpouring of unstinting love for us demonstrates the love that is expected from us in return. This Lenten season, I challenge each of us to consider Mary’s unwavering love for Christ and seek out ways that we can extravagantly proclaim our love for God, no matter the criticism we may face.
- Caitlin Spears

Wednesday, March 20
Scripture Reading: Mark 4:30-32
     “This wasn’t part of my plan” I thought as the ultrasound technician turned the screen for us to see and explained that the two blobs we were seeing meant we were expecting twins. My plan was always to have 2 children and we already had one who was 4 at the time. My plan was so secure in my mind that I had already purchased four matching stockings for our family. I left that day in shock. I did not feel prepared or equipped to tackle the road ahead of me. But God was just starting to teach me that certainty cannot be found in my plans, and I had to rely on Him more than ever.
     My twin pregnancy may have started with the planting of a small mustard seed by my questioning of God and how I was going to be a mother to 3. But once planted, it grew, and I had to trust God to show me the way. The twins arrived early and spent over 2 weeks in the NICU. Their birth brought people to my doorstep that I did not even know with gifts of food and help. The outpouring of support from our church was overwhelming. I knew God had this even on days when I did not.
     God might lead us on a path we didn’t plan for, but God’s goodness never leaves us. Even when I don’t deserve his grace and goodness, He heaps it into my life, and that is love. I certainly had days when I did not feel worthy of this goodness, grace and love, but God showed up every day by the angels he sent, and I felt every bit of His love.
     And now, my mustard seed of faith has grown and so have all my children who are now 35 and 30. My mustard seed branches have become so large that I will now be a grandmother to twins! God has blessed me beyond measure with my 3 children and 4 grandchildren, and I now get to help one of my twins care for her new twins. My cup runneth over with God’s extravagant love!
- Connie Anderson

Thursday, March 21
Scripture Reading:  Luke 11:5-13
    Surprisingly, the words of Luke 11:5-13 that stood out most to me were ‘at midnight’.  Perhaps that’s because at or after midnight, needs become ultra urgent. Those midnight needs tend to repetitiously knock around my consciousness.  I haven’t knocked on a neighbor’s door with an audacious ask, but I do regularly knock on Jesus’ door as needs balloon in the dark of night.  You too?
There’s a song by Toby Mac I especially like because it addresses troubles head on in the words “it may be midnight or midday but Help is On the Way.”  (Check it out, it’s worth listening to.)  I think that’s what Jesus was saying when he reminded the disciples that he was gifting them with Help - the Holy Spirit.   The Holy Spirit exemplifies extravagant love that far exceeds everyone’s perception of good gifts.
     Jesus reminded the disciples with seemingly everyday examples of how a loving parent answers their child’s asks: give a fish not a snake, give an egg not a scorpion; in other words give good not evil gifts.  I think He was telling the disciples it’s ok to persist in asking, to persist in seeking, and to persist in knocking whatever our needs. Many times I become aware that as I persist in asking, I become less focused on my ask and more focused on Him to whom I am praying. His extravagant love becomes evident as I experience the gift of His reassurance that He wants only good for me.  His extravagant gift of love, the Holy Spirit, will comfort me and guide me. Whether urgent needs are knocking on my consciousness at midnight or midday, He is my Help.
- Sandra Hutchens

Friday, March 22
Scripture Reading: Luke 12:13-21
     God’s extravagant love for us knows no bounds!  He blesses us in so many ways that we can’t possibly comprehend.  In the story of “The Prodigal Son” we see how extravagantly God loves us.  Even when we have shown poor judgment and have not loved him. In “The Parable of the Rich Fool,” Jesus shows us that we should not focus our attention on the things of this earth but to look fully on God and store our spiritual treasures in Heaven. Jesus warned his friends about worldliness - an overarching concern for the things of this world. Greed goes hand in hand with this worldliness. A life in Christ does not consist of an abundance of possessions. The rich man in the parable does not even contemplate giving to others, particularly those who are in need. He is a selfish man who only provides for himself at the expense of having made no provision for his soul. At times we make choices and isolate these choices, along with our life, from God and our neighbors. We fail to give our best and share properly with God and others. In addition, we do not reciprocate with extravagant love as we should.  We become attached to worldly possessions and situations. This is a reflection of our fear and anxiety, and this stifles our soul. We really can do nothing apart from God.  We fail to involve God in most of our decisions and then wonder why the results of our choices never satisfy, and we have no peace and joy.  When we make a conscious decision that Jesus is who he claims to be and understand what he did on the cross for us, this provides the only hope for us in this world and after. Then we begin a life-long process of sanctification that changes us from the inside out.  We need to trust God and see how extravagantly he blesses us.  We must give richly to God and to others. Our soul is where our focus should be, rather than accumulating worldly possessions which removes all doubt as to our foolishness. We will reap what we sow! Extravagant love.  A love so richly exuded that there can be no doubt about the true nature of our heart and our mind.  That we obviously, faithfully, and truthfully love God and others!
Scripture References:
Matthew 6:19-21
2 Corinthians 9:6-7
Matthew 19:24
Matthew 23:27
- Sam Harris

Saturday, March 23
Scripture Reading: Luke 14:12-14
    This passage touches on something close to my heart, which is that you should love people as themselves and for themselves, not just because they’re rich or popular. It’s saying that you shouldn’t love others with a conditional, exclusionary love, but rather an unconditional, inclusive, Christ-like love. This passage gives us the gift of telling us directly something Jesus said, and we should take it as such. Worldly sources will tell us who to love and who not to love, but God tells us in Luke 14:12-14 to love others as He does. You should be open and loving to those whom you have no reason to love. Your care should not come with an ulterior motive. People will spew hate in the name of Christ, but when it comes down to it, His words are what we are meant to live by. His words are not meant to be divisive or manipulative, but to unite.
    While people try and decipher our world, our society, and everything that comes with being human, there is one thing we don’t need to figure out — who we should love and accept. In God’s eyes, we are all His children and we should love each other like family, like His family. In this passage, it says “…if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Though in this life on earth, you may not gain much from being kind to others, you will be rewarded when seated with The Father. People may even make fun of you for associating with those they see as less than them, but God will see your strength and reward you for doing as is His will. If you love others as yourself, for themselves, then you are living and loving as the Lord intended.
- Brooke Tilley