Did you know…
…that in the story of the prodigal son the author of Luke uses a Greek word to describe the son that only shows up this one time in the whole bible. This kind of word, one that is only used once in all of scripture, is called a ἅπαξ λεγόμενον (hapax legomenon) meaning "once said." There is an important word in this week's parable that falls into this "once said" category, and it is the word "Prodigal." This word is a translation of the Greek word ἀσώτως (asotos) meaning "wastefully." Even more specifically, it comes from the root word σῴζω (sozo) which means to save, and adds the letter α- (alpha), which is a negation, so it literally means "not-saved," or "un-save-able."
We could think about this idea in two ways. One is that whatever cannot be saved is that which is wasted (e.g., food that we don't need or can't fit into a container becomes "waste"). The other way to think about it is that which is "beyond saving," which in the story would be a description of the kinds of actions the brother was doing in his years away. That Greek word σῴζω (sozo), after all, is also the root word for "savior" and is the word used in the bible to talk about Jesus' work of "saving" (i.e., salvation). It's possible that it is meant in both ways, here, in that the son is spending money as if it will never run out, or cannot be saved (wastefully), but it's also implied that it is being used on socially unacceptable things (beyond saving or unforgiveable).
When we get to the son's return and reception by his father, then, we must read that moment through the lens of salvation. Having done things that are defined as "un-save-able" or unforgiveable, that make the son unworthy of right relationship with his father, the son is welcomed without question, recognized not just as worthy to be in relationship, but worthy to be celebrated. So, as Jesus sits with tax collectors and sinner, the "un-save-able," and tells this story to the religious leaders confronting him for sitting with such people, Jesus calls into question our very concepts of sin and worthiness. Is any action, or person, truly "un-save-able" or unforgiveable? What voices are telling you that something you've done makes you unworthy? What would it be like to receive that part of yourself this week as the parent receives the child in this story? Take some time to share your thoughts as a group.