I’m not even really sure who I’m mad at. My brother clearly misused his time, money, body, and energy. BUT, a servant told me that our father ran out to meet my brother – as if he’d been waiting for this day. I know I have, anticipating the yelling, the explanation, the begging, the apologizing, the judging, the condemning, the promise to do better. But, instead, my father runs (a grown man – running), hugs him, gives him a robe, a ring, and sandals, and kills the calf we’d been fattening. He already gave him half the estate when he left; now he’s giving him more when he returns? Who is the real prodigal here? They are like two daydreamers, with no sense of the way things work: pretending everything is ok while I am like a foreigner in my own house.
Well, I am unwilling to participate in it. How can he be so joyful, celebrating in there when this son of his squandered all my father worked for; All we both worked for. It’s not easy being the oldest, being the responsible one. I’ve been here all along. I’ve been the good son. Why was he never joyful over me? Why didn’t I ever get a party? I’ve stewarded this place for years. And for what? So some newcomer could reap the reward?
He left for crying out loud! Sure he came back – I mean, everyone does something right sometime. But I do so much right. I just want to be appreciated, thanked, acknowledged. I’ve certainly earned it! I mean, we’re supposed to be loved according to our behavior: our grades, our successes. That’s how the world measures us. Everyone knows that. Well, everyone but my father, I guess. What’s he doing celebrating in there? I thought I’d earned the privileged place. Guess not. It seems like he loves my bro, too. It feels like he loves him more.
I thought it was good to be good, obedient, dutiful, law-abiding, hardworking, self-sacrificing. It even felt good at first. But it doesn’t seem to have impressed my father. And it hasn’t really made me all that happy, either. Even my father’s great joy can’t evoke joy in me. Instead, I’m out here, mad, stuck, paralyzed. It’s made me envious, resentful, unhappy, unfree; Just as lost as my brother, really, but at home. “How can he be so joyful?” Why am I so angry?
I suppose part of me likes it this way. It is easier to be out here, to hold on my illusion of control, my resentment, my indignation. But it also means I hold on to my hurt, my anger, my resentment, my judgment , my self-righteousness . . . my fear.
The constant message I get says: prove your worth, win, achieve, contribute: earn love. So, I try. And it’s hard work. Part of me is just afraid no one notices. But, more of me is afraid that the voices might be wrong. What if it doesn’t all depend on me? What if I can’t do anything to earn his love? That’s terrifying. Because it’s all I know. Well, it was all I knew; Now I don’t even know that. My father (who taught me be good in the first place) seems to be teaching me something else: His love can’t be earned. And it can’t be forfeited. It is good to be good, obedient, dutiful, law-abiding, hardworking, and self-sacrificing. But not in order to earn love.
I made such big deal about brother leaving. I hadn’t realized, I leave home every time I think I am earning my father’s love.
My father is joyful about a restored relationship; Yet I am so ensnared in resentment that I’m trapped out here, against my will. But, I can’t save myself. My father did come out to meet me, too. “You are always with me” he said. That’s certainly true. If I’m honest, I have failed a few times, too. I’ve left home myself. And how many times have I returned home and been received every time?
He’s has shown us, both of us, that we are his only concern. And he’s given himself to us completely. His hands of blessing have held us all our lives. Our failings have been great. Yet, somehow, his grace has been greater. Look inside; it’s all there: love, light, bread, wine. He’s given himself completely in this feast, bringing me from death to life.
And, it’s always there. Independent of my response. Even my harsh words weren’t met with judgment, but with love: be at home. “This son of yours” I called him. And my father corrected me: “this brother of yours.” We all belong as much as I do. And I belong as much as all others. I’ve spent all day wanting to be loved. I am. We both are. We always have been. Loving, patient, steadfast arms have been reaching out to us, waiting, ready. He loves us the same: my brother in his greed and me in my anger. Him in his lust and me in my resentment. Him in his frivolity and me in my jealousy.
Well, now I feel kinda dumb out here. Should I just go in? As I am? He did invite me: What’s mine is yours. Can I trust and be grateful? Can I let myself be found and brought home? Can I let my father be who he is: grieving at our wandering, rejoicing at our return, calling us to the table, to forgive and to restore.
He’s the Prodigal: casting grace all around, spontaneous, free, light. That’s how I want to be. No more paralyzing fear but rather receiving anyone, whatever their journey has been. To BE home for the lost. To welcome, to forgive, to console, to heal, and to offer a banquet with a heart that doesn’t compare people, but loves them. I want to become what I receive. I want to become who I am: heir to the one Whose arms are open, Whose love is welcoming, Who rejoices in our passing from death to life, and Who says, I’m glad you’re home.