Today’s Gospel was on the Prodigal Son. It is a beloved story to all Christians and one of the most known of Jesus’ parables to those outside the faith. Most of the time we focus on the younger prodigal, his failure and his repentant return. Sometimes we focus on the Father, his ready forgiveness and joy at finding that which was lost. Very seldom do we focus on the elder son who remained. He is my focus today.
One aspect of the story that often slips by is that when the younger son sought his portion of the inheritance, the father gave both sons their portion.
And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Luke 15:12
So, later in the story, when the elder son hears the rejoicing and finds out that it is a party for the returned younger prodigal, he says:
Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him! Luke 15:29-30
He already had everything. He could have had a celebration with his friends any time he wanted. His father gently reminds him.
Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found. Luke 15:31-32 [Emphasis added.]
It had nothing to do with the calf. It had to do with gladness for the return from the dead that which was lost and the elder brother’s heart was reluctant to forgive and rejoice.
Before the Last Supper, Jesus (he who knew no sin) stooped to wash the feet of his disciples (prodigals all). That act of humility comes from the same heart as the father in the story. Agape forgives and celebrates with joy the merciful pardon of the penitent.
Peter once asked Jesus how many times he needed to forgive a brother, hoping there was a limit on the demands of agape, but Jesus essentially told him it was limitless. Like the elder brother, we who labor against sin, working out our salvation with fear and trembling, growing tired in the struggle but getting up and laboring on, even when we fall, sometimes find it hard to rejoice over the prodigal who is being celebrated.
In the end, it is all about agape, about sacrifice and being willing to bend our knees, take up basin and wash the feet of the sinners around us.
I pray that when we fall like the elder brother, that God is as gentle and merciful with us as the Father in the parable was with the good son. I pray also that our hearts will be quickly turned to rejoicing and be freed of any root of bitterness over the demands of forgiveness, of agape on our lives.
Grace and peace to today and may the love of God always find us on our knees, basin in hand.