Most of us who have led a somewhat checkered past relate to the story of the Prodigal Son. This is the well-off young man who decides to go out and live the fast life. So he asks for his inheritance, goes out and blows it all, finally realizing how good he had it back it home. He hits bottom and slinks home. But he is welcomed by his more than compassionate father. We prodigals find this story reassuring, giving us hope that indeed we are forgiven.
But some years ago my attention was drawn to the brother of the Prodigal Son. This fellow was the opposite of his brother — compliant, dutiful, dedicated to serving his father. When the Prodigal Son receives a warm welcome, his brother becomes resentful of the attention heaped on his wayward brother. As I thought about this brother, I became uneasy.
We all can rejoice when good things happen to good people. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we may also rejoice when bad things happen to bad people. (Come on! Didn’t you cheer when Rocky Balboa finally beat up Mr T or Shane blew away Jack Wilson?) We may also struggle to understand why bad things happen to good people. But this brother puts me in touch with the reality that I am REALLY bothered when good things happen to bad people!
This brother challenges me to face that within me that expects to be rewarded when I try to be good rather than simply being good because it is its own reward. This brother challenges me to face my resentful jealousy when someone succeeds and I privately didn’t think they deserved it. It certainly challenges me to face my jealousy when someone “gets away with it”.
The father gently reassures his angry son of his love for him but invites him to understand the powerful joy when someone we love who was lost is now found. I relate to the Prodigal Son because I know what it means to be lost then found, something for which I am eternally grateful. I need to remind myself of that when I judge someone else to be undeserving.
Finally, this brother reminds me that I haven’t always been the best of brothers, passing judgment on my own brother when he would be struggling, somehow judging myself superior in comparison.
So, yes, I have walked the path of the Prodigal Son and have been saved. But I need to thank his brother also for helping me see there is more work to be done.
Reflection: What can you learn from the Prodigal Son’s brother?