Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 16, 2007
Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
The parable of the Prodigal Son is one that has been the source of inspiration for many artists throughout the centuries. Paintings, statues and even plays have been created to tell the story of the wayward son.
Many of us can identify with this prodigal boy. He is selfish, greedy and wants it all right now. He is self seeking and self centered. All of us have been the prodigal at least once. Many of us even have prodigals in our families who we try to bring back in to the fold. We can understand this tale of redemption, reconciliation and restoration.
However, the prodigal is not the sole focus of this parable. Jesus is addressing a group of people who are the religious leaders of the day. These "religious" folk are complaining and judging Jesus for eating and enjoying fellowship with sinners. How dare him! Imagine that, the one who is our salvation daring to spend time with us sinners! So Jesus gives them the parables of how he is there to save the lost and that no one is outside of God's love. Then, as Jesus has them seeing the value of all God's children, he slips in a warning, the elder son.
Most times the elder son is just waxed over and never given any attention but I think the elder son is perhaps the most important part of the parable. It is easy to identify with the prodigal because he comes to his senses and we want to see ourselves that way. We do not want to see our self as the elder son.
Why do we avoid the elder son? We tend to see the elder son as the injured party in the parable. Here he has been faithful for all of these years yet the father doesn't give him the same treatment as the prodigal. Or does he?
The elder son's motives are revealed to be no different than the younger. The elder son has been biding his time and waiting for the father to die and leave him his inheritance. Has his faithfulness been merely so he can get the money? If so, aren't his motives just as selfish and shallow as the younger son? I think the answer is yes. The elder son is an example of doing it right but getting it wrong. We can do everything by the book but if our motives aren't true then we haven't gotten it right.
The elder son is an example of those of us who may think that if we do or say the right things then all is well. However, we fill our hearts with resentments, jealousy and greed. We pile up baggage that gets in the way of our relationship with God and one another. Then, when we are faced with something we feel is unfair, we throw a tantrum just like the elder son. How dare the father be so forgiving that he take in this hooligan! How dare the father be willing to forgive and restore! The elder son stands outside of the house throwing a fit and he completely misses the joy of the father. This moment of redemption, reconciliation and restoration is lost for the elder son. All he can see is that he didn't get things the way he wanted and he cannot see that the gifts have always been there for him and all he had to do was ask.
We can strive to do and say the right things. That's good. Yet, we can strive for the externals and completely miss the internals. Doing and saying the right things become irrelevant when our hearts are filled with resentments and jealousy and our motives become selfish. The baggage we pile on our shoulders do nothing but weigh us down. The resentments and petty grudges keep us standing outside of the house and we can see the feast but our tantrum keeps us from enjoying the gifts so freely given. Why do we do that? Why do we get so caught up in being jealous and holding on to grudges and we willingly step outside of the feast in order to pout and throw a tantrum?! What a monumental loss!
Jesus concludes the parable of the prodigal with a heads up for us all. Let go of the motives that get in the way of our relationship with God and one another. Let go of the resentments, petty disagreements, jealousies and sense of entitlement we may harbor. If we don't, we may just miss out on the feast because we are too busy pouting in the back yard.