Do you relate more to the younger brother, the one who messed up, who squandered his inheritance making bad choices, and who had to come crawling back home… or to the older brother, you know… the good one, the one who made the right decisions and sacrifices all along?
In my life, I have identified with both of them. It depended on what was happening at the time, what I was doing, and what kind of choices I was making. How about you? Have you needed to ask someone for forgiveness? Or have you been the one asked to grant it?
The parable of the prodigal son is one of the best known and most often referenced of all the parable stories. I have read or heard it a hundred times it seems and I’ve preached about it… a lot. But this time, I saw two things in it that I never really noticed before. And both, to me, seemed… powerful.
I’m curious to know what you think.
The first has to do with resentment. We all get angry. That’s natural and normal. But hopefully, it eventually passes. We get hurt, but hopefully it passes. We get frustrated, but hopefully it passes. We are disappointed, but hopefully it passes. Sometimes though… it lingers. For a while. For some of us, it can remain for much of our lives. The hurt, the pain, the frustration. It stays and ultimately, it becomes part of us. Maybe even, it comes to define us; the resentment becomes the pebble in our shoe that we can’t seem to shake loose.
The younger brother came home to a father who did something that the custom of the time would never allow for. Instead of waiting for the wrongdoer to come to him and apologize first, this father saw the son coming from a distance and went out to greet him… first. This was unheard of, this abundance of mercy. But this father is what our father does for us. Our Father, who art in heaven…
The younger brother was greeted warmly, invited inside, given the royal treatment. He came inside.
The older brother felt wronged. He felt hurt. The Gospel tells us that he was angry and chose to remain outside. His pain puts him on the outside. This is exactly what resentment can do to us.
The second lesson comes from last week’s Gospel about a fig tree. I preached last Sunday about the power and grace of humility, but this week… because of the story of the prodigal son… I want to take it one step further. A step that struck me as I thought about what that younger brother went through. He came back home in humility, hoping to be treated as a hired worker, not as a member of the family. Yet this led him to being welcomed inside.
I wonder, is it possible to truly be humble without having been humbled first?
None of us want to be humbled, to experience the kind of hardship, pain and humiliation that that younger brother endured, but ultimately, which led to his being welcomed inside. The older brother did not experience the same and, by the end of the story, he is left angry and outside.
What are the lessons for us? There are two.
First, resentment does us no good. We have to learn to let go of it, which is sometimes is very difficult. But what use is it to us if it ultimately leaves us, like the older brother, angry and on the outside looking in?
Second, we should not be so quick to see only the negative that comes from the bumps and bruises of life. Some of us experience far worse than bumps and bruises, though. Some of us suffer greatly. No one wants that, but this simple story of a wayward son who decides to come home teaches us that there is such a thing as redemptive suffering, where we can pair our pain to Christ’s on the crucifix and cling tightly onto the certain hope that Jesus’ father, Our Father who art in heaven, will not simply wait for us. He will rush out to us, greet us and welcome us home. He will take us with him… inside.