The one thing that is awesome about the parable of the Prodigal Son is the fact that many people resonate with nearly all the characters. We’ve all been there when we think we’ve wasted something. We’ve all felt the disappointment when someone lets us down or wastes an opportunity we’ve given them. But perhaps the character of the older brother that Jesus has named is the one we should all pay the most attention to and he is often the most overlooked.
The older brother stayed home, some scholars say that he had little ambition and just kind of went along with the crowd while the younger brother might have screwed things up and was way too headstrong, but still took a risk and found out who he really was.
Regardless of the speculation, the resentment shown by the older brother is personified by the Pharisees who were grumbling about Jesus’ teachings. Jesus is reminding them that they have forgotten about the destitute in their midst. They have been “looking down” on people because of their own righteousness and that when people repent of their own sinfulness they were apt to let “sleeping dogs lie.”
So the message is really one of a call to put aside resentments and judgments on the part of those of us who tend to be the “older brother” not those of us who are the “Fathers.” The Father is all too ready to forgive and he forgives in the same manner that God does–he can not help BUT forgive. The older brother is the one who needs to shore up his forgiving.
How does the story end? We don’t know. We never hear if the older brother goes inside or not to join is brother or if he stands in resentment for the rest of his life.
And that is where the challenge is presented to the Pharisees and to us. Where do we need to get past our resentments and welcome those who we have a hard time forgiving? Who are the people in our lives who we think have squandered their gifts and have lived like pigs but who now need that warm embrace not merely from God but also from those who felt the brunt of their lack of committment to their obligations? For those who are unemployed, who have not cherished life in all forms, who have ignored the needs of their families and who now turn toward someone for forgiveness…let us make our prayer for them and let us call ourselves to action–to stop looking down at them and instead look into their hearts and let that turn our own into a welcome embrace.
What time is the party?