Actually I am the younger son. I do have an older brother, and we get along well. My confession is not an expression of a desire to disown him or try to take his birthright. I have no intentions to put squirrel fur on my forearms or trade stuff for stew.
When I read the parable of the prodigal son I usually focus on the rebel younger son, the protagonist who experiences tension through a series of events which result in a transformational experience. It’s a great story.
Son is bad. Son leaves. Son loses half of Dad’s money. Son eats pig food. Son goes back home. Dad hugs son. Son eats prime rib.
The elder son is an important part of the story, but I never paid much attention to him. After all he seemed like a jerk. Lately, though I have been forced to think about him and I am not really liking it much. The problem is that he reminds me of myself.
In Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, he goes through each character in the story and describes how he personally is like each one. We all want to be the younger son. Rebellion turned into Repentance.
The elder son, however, is the religious guy who did all the right things. He put on the correct clothes. He went to church every Sunday. He read the Bible. He said the right words. He probably did some weird religious stuff like summer camp.
As the story unfolds we find out he was just as miserable and unhappy as the younger son when he sat in the pig sty. Religion without Love. When his brother comes back his resentment becomes evident.
He was angry at his brother.
He refused to participate in the party.
He argues that his behavior was without blemish.
He felt that he had not been rewarded enough.
Seeing his brother return brought him no happiness. Watching his father extravagantly display his love for another did not arouse any joy in his heart. All the elder son could think about was himself and his own goodness and what he felt he deserved. He knew the rules and he kept the rules without complaining.
But unlike the father, he was not loving.
Instead of being like the elder son, I want to be like the father.
Unfortunately the story of the elder son ends just like the X-files, without any resolution whatsoever. What became of this elder son? Did he go to the party? Did he embrace his brother? Did he tell his dad he was sorry?
Or did he go about his grueling labor, trying even harder to earn approval full of bitterness towards his brother?
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