The parable of the prodigal son is well known as an American cultural reference even for non-Christians. I’ve lived it for the last six years as the father in the story, so I thought I knew how to handle it this morning when it came up in church.
It’s the story told by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke about a wayward young man who demands his farm inheritance early. He rejects everything that is good in the family, goes from riches to rags in a foreign land, comes to his senses, and returns home in hopes of becoming a simple farmhand on the edge of the family. He’s as far as he could go from his roots, in misery, and wants to come home.
It’s the dramatic return that most people remember, in the joy of father who brushes past the son’s farmhand plan and accepts him back into the family with a big party. Joy, love, forgiveness. It’s easy for people to relate to the wayward son or the father of that wayward son.
But someone is missing from the party. The older brother will have no part of it. The older brother who has been Steady Eddie the entire time his loser brother has been throwing away part of what he helped build. The father pleads with him to share in his joy for the lost soul being found again. No way.
The reason for the resentment is understandable except for one thing. It is full of pride and self-righteous anger at the irresponsible brother and the overly merciful father. Although the older brother did all the right things, gratitude was never part of his heart.
His heart wasn’t that much different from his wayward brother, even with a well-polished brand in the eyes of others. Although everything the father owns is available to the older brother, his self-righteous sense of justice has been injured. The father in the story is a good example for me, but I may be more like the resentful brother than I like to admit.
The parable never tells us what happened to the prideful, angry, yet faithful brother. It leaves a space for us to fill in the ending ourselves. We pray for our kids to avoid the folly of the prodigal son, but what about the faithful one?
We are invited to look in the mirror and ask where our self-righteous pride may be holding us back from enjoying unity, love, and progress of those around us.
Life is a team sport. Where is pride and resentment injuring the unity of your team?