Last week when I was in Texas my friend Cheryl Mackey gave me a copy of Tim Keller’s little book The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of Christian Faith It is a book based on the story of the prodigal son but he renames it the Story of Two Lost Sons. He points out that this story was not just addressed to the tax payers and prostitutes – the prodigals that followed him but also to the Pharisees and Sadducees, those who had followed the laws of God all their lives yet never really embraced a faith that connected them to the unconditional love of a God who had given them everything – not because they had always done what he asked, but because he did love them deeply and unconditionally.
I have thought about this a lot over the last week as I realize how easily I can fall into the the older brother mode, resenting God’s embrace of the sinner and the outcast while I work so hard to please and follow him. And I know I am not alone.
We are all conditioned to believe that it is what we do that matters. If we do what is right then we will be blessed and abundantly provided for. If we do what is wrong we will be abandoned not just by God but also by our society and even by the church. In fact it seems to me that it is often the church that judges us first and hardest and underneath the judgement I suspect is often that Pharisaical heart that resents a God who will forgive all who sin time and time again.
This morning I came across this meditation by Henri Nouwen in a leaflet I also picked up while in Texas entitled From Fear to Love, Lenten reflections that come from an audio recording of a workshop given by Henri Nouwen in 1988. The recording is available from Daybreak Books and Media. It spoke to me profoundly of this conflict within and seemed a very appropriate place to begin reflecting during this last week of Lent
When we are resentful we are lost in a very significant way. The younger son gets lost in a far more spectacular way than his elder brother – giving into his lust and greed, using women, gambling and losing his money. His wrongdoing is very clear-cut. He knows it and everybody else does too. Because of that he’s able to come back and be forgiven.
The problem with resentment is that it is not so clera-cut. It’s not spectacular and it is not overt and it can be concealed by the appearance of a holy life. Resentment is so pernicious because it sits very deep within us: in our hears, in our flesh, in our bones. Often, we aren’t even aware that it is there. We may think we’re so good, when in fact we’re lost in a very profound way.
I want you to know that you are the younger child, you are the older child, and you are called to become the parent who loves unconditionally. There is a younger child in you that needs conversion and there is an older child in yo that needs conversion. There is also a parent in you that needs to emerge so that you can welcome all those who “return” to you day after day.
Somewhere at the end of it all God wants each of us to be present at the banquet. The banquet is not only because the youngest son returned, it is for the eldest too, and for the parents – together. We are called to be united in the father and as the father. “Be perfect as Your Father is perfect. Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.”
So let us humbly claim the younger child living within, and claim the older child living within, And let us strive to receive the Love within that forgives those inner, straying children, and welcomes others home.