A Squandered Inheritance

*Posted by Winston Hottman

After a powerful and popular career in California politics, Maureen O’Connor’s reputation has been marred by scandal.  The former mayor of San Diego is accused of taking more than $2 million from a charity foundation established by her late husband to accommodate her out-of-control gambling addiction. After inheriting millions from her husband (Robert O. Peterson, founder of the Jack-in-the-Box chain), O’Connor squandered the money and eventually began borrowing from friends and illegally using charity donations. In what the NY Times calls a “rapid fall from grace,” O’Connor, once a “favorite child” of the San Diego community, now faces prosecution  after losing her fortune and her health over the past several years. But when she appeared in court a few days ago, she pleaded for understanding:

Those of you who know me here would know that I never meant to hurt the city that I love…I always intended to pay it back and I still intend to pay it back.

When Prodigals Come Home

The story is a tragic one and a telling example of the destructive nature of the human condition. It reminds me of the story of the prodigal son in the New Testament, a story of a young man who after receiving a sizable inheritance from his father squanders it on a life of self-indulgence. In an equivalent “fall from grace,” the young man who in his father’s house had enjoyed the security and luxury of his family’s wealth eventually finds himself feeding out of a pig trough, impoverished and ashamed.  However, after finally coming to his senses, he decides to return to his father’s house, admit his wrong and humbly ask to be made a household servant.

One of the purposes that parables like the stories of Maureen O’Connor and the prodigal son serve is that they remind us of our own predicament. As part of the human race each one of us has done our fair share of inheritance squandering. Having been entrusted by a loving God with the stewardship and care of ourselves and those around us, we all have to admit within ourselves the same destructive propensities, though perhaps not lived out in such extreme ways.  We are all “bent” towards lives of self-indulgence that eventually not only harm those around us but also harm ourselves. And in those moments when we are exposed to ourselves and to others, as we try to salvage the rubble, we plead for understanding:

Those of you who know me here would know that I never meant to hurt anyone…I always intended to make things right and I still intend to make things right.

Unfortunately, such a plea is not likely to hold up in an American court of law. But more importantly, it does not hold up in God’s court. Indeed, the Bible teaches us that we are also heirs of a destructively sinful nature that we just can’t “make right.” And because of this there is harm both to others and ourselves that we just can’t undo.

Fortunately, however, the story of the prodigal son doesn’t end with divine condemnation, and nor does Maureen O’Connor’s or our story have to end that way. The promise holds that for those who “come to their senses” in repentance and trust before Jesus, the Father will welcome home with open arms as He promises in the end to make all things right.

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