I continue to read and reread the parable of the prodigal son. I am also reading and rereading Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. Embedded in this story is so much more then I ever realized. Of course our perspective is always going to be the view that centers around our circumstances in life.
I have struggled to comprehend the actions and reactions of a few people in my own life but Nouwen writes with intense insight I have found helpful in his description of the other brother. The other brother represents the faithful that have not fallen or experienced brokenness in their lives. (or they may have but have not been exposed) For some reason, these folks seem to struggle the hardest and here is Nouwen’s explanation:
“The lostness of the elder son, however, is much harder to identify. After all, he did all the right things. He was obedient, dutiful, law-abiding, and hardworking. People respected him, admired him, praised him, and likely considered him a model son. Outwardly, the elder son was faultless. But when confronted by his father’s joy at the return of his younger brother, a dark power erupts in him and boils to the surface. Suddenly, there becomes glaringly visible a resentful, proud, unkind, selfish person, one that had remained deeply hidden, even though it had been growing stronger and more powerful over the years. Looking deeply into myself and then around me at the lives of other people, I wonder which does more damage, lust or resentment? There is so much resentment among the “just” and the “righteous.” There is so much judgment, condemnation, and prejudice among the “saints.” There is so much frozen anger among the people who are so concerned about avoiding “sin.” The lostness of the resentful “saint” is so hard to reach precisely because it is so closely wedded to the desire to be good and virtuous. I know, from my own life, how diligently I have tried to be good, acceptable, likable, and a worthy example for others. There was always the conscious effort to avoid the pitfalls of sin and the constant fear of giving in to temptation. But with all of that there came a seriousness, a moralistic intensity—and even a touch of fanaticism—that made it increasingly difficult to feel at home in my Father’s house. I became less free, less spontaneous, less playful, and others came to see me more and more as a somewhat “heavy” person.”
In some closing remarks from this chapter Nouwen also writes the following:
“Unlike the fairy tale, the parable provides us no happy ending. Instead it leaves us face to face with one of life’s hardest spiritual choices: to trust or not to trust in God’s all-forgiving love. I myself am the only one who can make that choice. In response to their complaint, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” Jesus confronted the Pharisees and scribes not only with the return of the prodigal son, but also with the resentful elder son. It mus have come as a shock to these dutiful religious people. They finally had to face their own complaint and choose how they would respond to God’s love for the sinners. Would they be willing to join them at the table as Jesus did?” from “Return of the Prodigal Son” by Henri Nouwen
God please forgive me for acting like this toward others in my past. I have been the elder brother. I have looked down on others and thanked God that I wasn’t like them. Please allow me to practice forgiveness toward those that are filled with anger, resentment, and unforgiveness. Thank you Lord for your unchanging love. Thank you for your grace and mercy. I am unworthy but I bow before you in adoration and praise. Thank you for never leaving me alone at the table. You never flinched. You never quit looking for me. You never withdrew. You’ve stayed and I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for you.