The Prodigal: A Ragamuffin Story

The Prodigal: A Ragamuffin Story

by Brennan Manning, Greg Garrett


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From the inspirational author of The Ragamuffin Gospel comes a powerful contemporary retelling of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Jack Chisholm is “the people’s pastor.” He leads a devoted and growing megachurch, has several best-selling books, and a memorable slogan, “We have got to do better.” Jack knows how to preach, and he understands how to chastise people into performing. What he doesn’t know is anything about grace.

This year, when it comes time for the Christmas sermon, the congregation at Grace Cathedral will look to the pulpit, and Jack will not be there. Of course, they will have seen plenty of him already—on the news.

After an evening of debauchery that leads to an affair with his beautiful assistant, Jack Chisholm finds himself deserted with chilling swiftness. The church elders remove him from his own pulpit. His publisher withholds the royalties from his books. Worst of all, his wife disappears with their eight-year-old daughter.

But just as Jack is hitting bottom, hopeless and penniless, drinking his way to oblivion, who should appear but his long-estranged father, imploring his prodigal son: “Come home.”

A true companion piece to The Ragamuffin Gospel, The Prodigal illustrates the power of grace through the story of a broken man who finally saw Jesus not because he preached his greatest sermon or wrote his most powerful book, but because he failed miserably. Jack Chisholm lost everything—his church, his family, his respect, and his old way of believing—but he found grace. It’s the same grace that Brennan Manning devoted his life to sharing: profound in nature and coming from a God who loves us just as we are, and not as we should be.

“A wonderfully written story that is as entertaining as it is thought provoking.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“. . . the consummate final tale. What they have created is the Ragamuffin at his best, full of hope, full of love, and finally, full of belief in the goodness of God.” —Phyllis Tickle, founding editor, Religion Department, Publishers Weekly

“Brennan Manning’s last work continues the powerful message of grace and forgiveness that has transformed so many lives. The Prodigal will transform you too.” —Mark Batterson, New York Times best-selling author of The Circle Maker

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310339007
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 11/05/2013
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 1,237,054
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Brennan Manning spent his life and ministry helping others experience the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. A recovering alcoholic and former Franciscan priest, his own spiritual journey took him down a variety of paths, all of them leading to the profound reality of God’s irresistible grace. His ministry responsibilities varied greatly – from teacher, to minister to the poor, to solidary reflective. As a writer, Brennan Manning is best known as the author of the contemporary classics, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba’s Child, Ruthless Trust, The Importance of Being Foolish, Patched Together, and The Furious Longing of God.

Read an Excerpt

The Prodigal

a ragamuffin story

By Brennan Manning, Greg Garrett


Copyright © 2013 Brennan Manning and Greg Garrett
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-310-33900-7


Jack Chisholm woke slowly from a dream where he had been walking the beach with his father, hand in hand. In the dream, he was again a boy of six or seven, and his family was in Florida on summer vacation.

His father had always loved the beach, and when Jack was a boy, they had driven down every summer to vacation on the warm, white sands at Destin. Jack; his older sister Mary; her twin, Martha—dead now thirty years; his mother, Marie—dead for the past ten; and his father, Tom—still alive, though dead to Jack.

The dream felt so real. He could feel his father's strong hands holding him upright as the waves crashed against them. Jack felt a powerful sense of loss. He had not talked to his father in a decade, not since his mother's funeral. When he thought about his father in waking life, it was always with more anger than grief. The man had made his childhood a misery. No way was Jack going to let his adult life be held to the same impossible measuring stick.

At the graveside, they had quarreled. At the funeral, Tom had shamed him, and so Jack had walked away, leaving his family and Mayfield, Texas, forever.

The slow, steady crashing of waves had been the soundtrack to his dream, but it continued even now after he felt himself rise up through layers of sleep, even now that the sunlight forced him to open his eyes.

He had put it off as long as he could, the knowledge of where he was, the awareness of why he was there, but now there was no denying it.

It was Christmas morning. Jack was alone, lying on a chaise lounge on the balcony of a hotel room overlooking the dark-blue Caribbean. The sound of the ocean masked the hotel workers who were rapping on the bolted door and calling out in Spanish or broken English, their entreaties growing more emphatic. Meanwhile he could drink tequila and slumber fitfully and try to forget the hard facts that he had no more money and no place to go.

In a couple of hours, thousands of members of Grace Cathedral in Seattle, the church he had built, would be filing into one of three campuses for Christmas services, cups of steaming coffee in one hand, Bibles in the other. Some of them would be dressed in their Christmas best; some would be in ragged jeans and flannels. Some of them thought alcohol was a sin; some brewed their own craft porters. Some of them were scandalized when he preached his sermon series on the joys of sex with your spouse; others were so grateful they couldn't stop thanking him. The people of Grace were Anglo, Asian, Hispanic, African American, rich, and poor. However much they differed, though, they all had one thing in common: their pastor, Jack Chisholm.

Yet today when it came time for the Christmas sermon, the members of Grace would look up at the pulpit—or at the giant video screens—and they would see Danny Pierce, their junior pastor, stepping in to preach. They would be wondering where Jack Chisholm was, why he had left them, how he could have failed them so completely.

They would be wondering what was going to happen next.

Jack himself had no idea what was going to happen next, although he suspected the worst, at least for himself. He had managed to keep his head above water since the news broke six weeks ago. But he feared the end was approaching fast. The only way Jack could stop himself from jumping off the balcony and into the crashing sea was to start drinking when he woke up. Then he could try to forget.

Could try.

He reached under the lounge and found what might be the last of the tequila he had bought before the church canceled his American Express. He unscrewed the cap and brought the bottle to his mouth.

This was his first drink of the day. The clear liquid was smooth and powerful as it slipped down his throat. Tequila is a sledgehammer wrapped in velvet, he thought, and smiled in satisfaction before taking another swig.

"Merry Christmas," he whispered.

He slipped a hand into his pajamas pocket and pulled out his cell phone, miraculously still connected. Maybe the church didn't know they were still paying for it; maybe they were being generous. It didn't matter. The phone was his one connection to the larger world and it worked.

"Call home," he said. It dialed the number, but as had been the case for five weeks, he was greeted by an electronic voice and a beep, not by his wife, Tracy.

It rattled him, but after a few moments, he took a deep breath and left another message. "Tracy," he said. "If this is still your phone. If you're even listening to these messages. It's Christmas morning. Christmas morning." His voice broke, and he blinked back tears before regaining control. "I'm just wondering what Alison is getting from Santa," he said, in a tone much breezier than he felt. Alison was their eight-year-old daughter, the best thing he had ever made, although he was sure he had never said that out loud. That thought—the thought of her—made his voice catch again. "No. I'm wondering if you're ever going to talk to me again. I know things haven't been right for a long time. I know that. But, Tracy, I think if you would just talk to me—"

We could work it out?

I could explain?

There was nothing he could say. He hung up, then sat surveying the phone as though it held some secret.

Things hadn't been right for a long time. He wasn't one to let people get close, wasn't good at relationship. Work was the one thing he did well, the one thing with an obvious and immediate payback. His whole life he had been losing things, and maybe that had made him afraid to love too much. But that didn't mean he didn't love, that he didn't miss his family.

It didn't mean that at this moment he didn't feel utterly and completely lost.

On Christmas morning last year, Jack stood onstage at the main campus of Grace Cathedral with Tracy and Alison on either side, beautiful in matching red velvet dresses, smiling and singing carols.

At this time last year, he had been with his family.

After the eight-person worship band finished leading an alt-rock version of "O Come, O Come, Immanuel," he gathered Tracy's and Alison's hands the way he did every Sunday, squeezed them, let them go, and slowly and purposefully walked the twelve steps to his pulpit.

Then he stood still, his head bowed. Jack loved the moment before he began to preach, loved the moment before he spoke hard words to the world and they loved him for it. He rested his hands on the fine polished oak of his wide pulpit, looked down at the sermon notes on his iPad, then looked out at the four thousand people gathered here in this beautifully renovated former department store. Just as many were worshiping in the other two campuses across town, watching him on video screens. Many times more were watching him live on TV or on the church's webcast.

A year previous, the Guardian had called Jack "the people's pastor," and although they might be a newspaper for radical leftist Brits, they weren't far wrong. Few American pastors had more listening when they talked; few had more people paying attention to what they wrote. Jack's words seemed to resonate perfectly with the American values of hard work, achievement, self-improvement, guilt.

It was a perfect marriage of man and message.

Behind him, the giant worship screens were emblazoned with the words "Let Us Pray." He closed his eyes now and held his silence until he felt their silence, until he felt those untold thousands here and everywhere else hanging on his every word.

Then he spoke, and his warm, resonant voice reached out into those open spaces and caressed those open minds. "Father God. You created us good, but we fell, the victims of our own desires. You loved us, but we turned our backs on you. You sent prophets to teach us right from wrong, but we chose wrong, every single time. You gave us your holy Word so we could know your will, but we ignored it, and we ignore it still. And on this day, over two thousand years ago, you sent your Son, Jesus Christ, to show us the life you wanted us to live—and we killed him for it.

"At every step, we fail you and we fall again. We fall farther and farther, until the distance between us is unbelievable, unbearable. We are so far from you, so wrecked by our own sin and desire, so lost that we can barely even see you anymore. And why would you want to see us? We fail you, again and again and again."

He paused for effect, to let people know what was coming, to build their anticipation, and then he said it, pausing slightly between each word so the people could join their voices to his as the phrase rolled out: "We have got to do better."

He felt the skin on his arms prickle and knew a similar shiver was running through this congregation and all those listening as he prayed. These were his most famous words, the catchphrase that appeared on billboards across Seattle, the title of his first best-selling book, of a children's Sunday School curriculum, of a twelve-week Twelve Step course.

He nodded, eyes closed, and whispered, "If we are ever going to deserve your love, God, we have got to do better."

He had them now, he could feel it. His heart was pounding and he suppressed the crazy grin that always threatened to spill across his face when he felt the waves of attention crashing over him. He gripped the pulpit more tightly. Anyone watching would see his knuckles whiten as he introduced the theme of this sermon, of every sermon, even on this Christmas morning. "Today, on another anniversary of your reaching out to us and our failing you, we commit ourselves to bridge the gap between us. We commit ourselves to live worthy lives, to be spotless and blameless, to—for once—get your attention for the right reason.

"'Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.' That's what the Bible tells us. But because we are so far from doing that, God has turned his back on us."

He stopped, smiled, though his eyes showed only sadness, looked out at the congregation. Some heads bowed, many looked his direction.

"And so we have got to do better."

After he finished, he held that last silence, then raised his hand like a conductor. He formed a fist and shook it a few times, then dropped it solidly onto the wood of the pulpit. He looked up and out at the crowd and said, "Amen."

The houselights came up, the screens behind him changed, and he flipped to the next page on his iPad.

"Turn with me in your Bibles to the second chapter of the gospel of Matthew," he said, and the rustle that followed as they complied began like aspens fluttering in a strong mountain breeze, then became waves crashing on the shore.

In the front row, five steps below the dais, Danny Pierce flipped him a thumbs-up. You tell 'em, boss.

Three seats over, his dark-eyed personal assistant, Sally Ramirez, looked up from her Bible to give him a warm smile, and Jack gave her a tiny nod and looked back down at his notes before he could get distracted, before his thoughts went in a distinctly unholy direction.

Oh my, she was a sexy girl.

Now it was Christmas morning a year later, and everything had changed.

Jack shifted on the chaise lounge. Even though she had been his downfall, he couldn't be angry at Sally. She should write a book, pose for Playboy, capitalize on the fifteen minutes of fame she hadn't wanted but seemed to be getting nonetheless.

He couldn't find it in him to be upset at Danny, either. A small-town boy like Jack whom he'd turned into another big-city star, Danny was the tool of the church elders, that's all. The most visible face of the church after himself and Tracy, neither of whom would ever be back. The elders needed Danny, needed some kind of continuity if they were going to keep the church together.

They needed Danny to step into his pulpit, maybe even into Jack's shoes as senior pastor.

"Good luck with that, brother," Jack muttered. Danny would need luck to balance on that high wire.

Still, Jack felt bad. He had failed them. Failed them all. Tracy. Alison. Danny. Maybe even Sally.

At that thought, he pulled out his phone again.

"Call Sally," he said.

"Calling Sally Ramirez mobile," his phone affirmed, and then he heard the ring, once, twice, three times. Her message.

"It's Sally. You know what to do."

He'd thought—

Who knows. To finish that thought would require his taking on a whole lot more responsibility for this mess than he was prepared to do.

Still, he felt bad. Or would feel bad, if he didn't drink some more of this good Mexican tequila, and that right soon.

Jack screwed open the bottle, took another swig, then closed it and lay the bottle gently down on the slate floor next to him. The sun was rising over the Caribbean, beating down on him. Soon he'd need to cover up or get sunburned worse than he already had. Even the mild winter Mexican sun was too much for him now after fifteen years in Seattle.

Why was he here?

Why had he come back to the scene of the crime?

Maybe he thought he could fix things by coming back. Maybe he thought nobody would think to look for him here. Maybe he thought Sally would join him. It didn't matter now.

He'd never even been to Mexico until September. That had been because of Sally too. She was there every step of the way.

It hadn't been his idea.

"Nothing was my idea," he murmured.

He took another drink. Things were becoming pleasantly fuzzy. It was better if he didn't remember.

The phone began playing his ring tone—the opening organ chords of Don Henley's "Dirty Laundry." Ridiculously apropos after the media had raked him over the coals these past few weeks. He'd have to change that if he kept this phone, if he decided to keep on answering a phone. But at least Sally was finally calling him back after going missing for weeks.

He raised the phone to his mouth. "Why haven't you called before now?" Jack said, trying to keep the anger out of his voice. They were in this together—or ought to be.

"I always call on Christmas morning," a male voice said softly.

His father.

He pulled the phone away from his ear, looked at it in disbelief.

"Jack," his father was saying, "I'm right—"

Jack pressed the disconnect button, tossed the phone across the balcony, his heart pounding. That had been too close. He checked the recent calls—yes, that was his father's cell. He'd accidentally answered this number three Christmases back, after the old man had backed into the digital age.

But his father had spoken at least this much truth—he had called every Christmas morning for these last ten years.

Jack had always hung up on him without a word. Maybe his father, and Mary, and her dolt of a permanent boyfriend, Dennis, watched Home Alone together on Christmas Eve, maybe hope sprang eternal that all Tom had to do was call his son and everything that stood between them would be erased in an instant.

Why was he calling on this Christmas morning, after the whole country knew about his disgrace? To gloat probably. Jack had never lived up to his expectations. Nobody ever could. No matter what Jack accomplished, no matter how much good he preached, how many people he helped, he could still hear the voice of his father, criticizing, calling him to account.

He could hear him even now. Some parents said, "Do your best."

Tom Chisholm had always said, "You can do better."

Well, Dad, Jack thought, I didn't come to Mexico to screw up. I didn't come here that first time to embarrass you. I came for good reasons. I thought I was doing the right thing, until I wasn't.

That counted for something, didn't it? He had done more good things than bad, hadn't he? Grace raised lots of money for causes around the world. He preached good works every Sunday as part of his twelve steps of spiritual recovery, giving of yourself, giving back to God. Let the critics complain about the size of his church buildings, about the TV shows and ad buys, about his salary, which was well deserved; there was no Grace Cathedral until Jack built it.

He had done some good in the world.

Every August at the end of the fiscal year, the church went online and voted on ten charities they wanted to support in addition to the foundations Jack had created and the church supported, End Sexual Slavery and Cleanwater. And every year he took camera crews around the world to show the people of Grace—and to show their critics—what their money did, how it rescued people from brothels in Thailand, how it brought clean water to villages in Africa.

This year, Sally had asked him to consider some action on the drug violence in Mexico. It was a subject on which she had too much knowledge. Her father had been an innocent bystander killed in a gang shootout; her grandparents still lived in a border city.

Excerpted from The Prodigal by Brennan Manning, Greg Garrett. Copyright © 2013 Brennan Manning and Greg Garrett. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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