Do you remember?
Maybe it was the day you got your driver’s license.
Maybe it was when you graduated from college.
More likely, it may have been the day your parents dropped you off in the college dorm for the first time. They said goodbye and you were on your own – well, sort of.
Maybe it was when you took your first cross-country road trip.
We recall the thrill that surged through us in excited anticipation of all the experiences that would come from being free?
When we’re young and filled with hope freedom, in some way, has to do with leaving our parents and discovering the world on our own terms.
We want to leave home. We think we’re ready to leave home. Sure, the world is a challenging place but we can handle it.
We’re jumping out of the nest and will learn to fly. And when we do, we’ll soar.
Because most of us have done this and know the youthful emotions that go with it, few of us find it difficult to identify with the impulses and desires of the young man who left home in the most famous of Jesus’ stories.
This young man wasn’t just leaving home to move into a rental around the corner. He’s headed out – way out.
The wings will be spread wide.
Jesus tells us this younger son left his family – especially his loving but compliant father – and “took his journey into a far country” (Luke 15: 13, KJV, emphasis added). This kid wasn’t taking any chances with a retreat or return. Where he was headed dad wouldn’t know and couldn’t possibly find him.
Freedom meant being far away from all that cramping restraint and boring familiarity.
Distant meant exotic and exciting.
When most kids leave home they aren’t carrying much money. This young man was quite the exception. He had his full inheritance from what was arguably a fairly large estate. His dad had humiliated himself by giving this wealth to his son just because he asked for it.
The great thing? This young man is on his own.
The bad thing? He’s on his own.
The great thing? The kid’s got money.
The bad thing? He’s got money.
This money he’s not earned through either hard work or wise investment. He has no appreciation of its value or the many strenuous efforts and sacrifices of a father who gave it to him against his better judgment.
And speaking of judgment, we soon discover this is an intemperate youth devoid of discernment or self-control. In casting off the restraints and disciplines of family and home, he exercises utterly no restraint or discipline upon himself.
This young man is naïve, inexperienced and trusting.
There is a Proverb that reminds us that “the glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head” (Proverbs 20:29).
Two men went into business together. One furnished the money, the other had the experience. Before long, the man with the experience had the money and the man with the money had the experience.
Sudden wealth can be challenging enough. Ask Mr. Deeds, the innocent country bumpkin who in the classic Depression-era movie inherits $20 million and spends most of the film fighting off those who would try and take it from him.
When you’re as impulsive and flagrant as the kid in this story, your fate is almost sealed from the start.
Prodigal means “extravagantly wasteful”. This son was prodigal.
When he arrived in the big city, he was a child in the candy shop. Nothing was too much. There was partying every other night. The days between were for sleeping off the party from the night before.
Once the word got around – and it did, fast – the kid was instantly popular.
Loose money has lots of friends.
The young man’s lifestyle? What did Jesus call it?
“Riotous living” (Luke 15:13, KJV).
“Wild living” (NIV).
Jesus also says this young prodigal “wasted his substance” on this debauchery. He didn’t invest it or even spend it – he “wasted” it.
In this distant land, far from home, all his father had bestowed upon him – the work and savings of a lifetime – was thrown away on corrupt and shallow amusements.
“He squandered his estate with loose living” (Verse 13, NASB).
And it didn’t take long. Money is far harder earned than spent.
The good times went on – for a while. As the old song says, “those were the days my friend; we thought they’d never end”.
But they did.
A devastating famine hit the land. Hard times fell like a black shroud.
The young man was broke. The money – every last silver denarius – was gone.
“He had spent all” (Luke 15:14, KJV).
His new buddies – who told him during those crazy parties he was their “absolute best friend” – were gone too. Not one stayed. The last one out turned off the light.
Undisciplined and dissipated, now he was alone – broke, scared and desperate.
And he was getting hungry.
He’s about to be humbled.
And to experience the Reality Check of a lifetime.
For this lost and lonely kid the real extravagance is still ahead.