If any of you get the opportunity, I would strongly recommend a book by Tim Keller called The Prodigal God. In it he emphasizes how the word "prodigal" means extravagant or wasteful. This is exactly what the father in the story of the prodigal son was doing--he was behaving extravagantly and wastefully with his resources when his prodigal (wasteful) son returned home. Keller does a good job at pointing out all the nuances of the story and helping us understand the real meaning of the story. As with so many narratives in the Bible, it is difficult to apply the meaning to our lives unless we understand what it meant to the first readers. As they say at Blackhawk "the Bible wasn't written to us; but it was written for us." In this case, what did the first readers (or hearers) of the story of the prodigal son understand? First, they understood that the real impact of the story was pointing out that the Father was treating wayward children with extravagant love, while the respected duitiful older son stood on the sidelines angry that the Father would behave so wastefully toward those who didn't deserve it. In fact, those wayward children deserved punishment and ostracism, not celebration. The story was aimed at the self-righteous Pharisees. The Kingdom of God was now in their midst, and the recipients of the blessings of that kingdom were the outcasts and sinners, not the holy faithful. This was a slap in the face of those who had lived their entire lives "by the book." As my friend, Jim (who loaned me the book) said, it makes you see how unproductive judgment is. Self-righteousness is so ugly, and yet I still behave that way so often. I am thankful for books like this that help ground me. Here is to a happy new year for all the outcasts out there. And here is hoping that all of us self-righteous people learn compassion and humility in the coming year. God bless you all!