Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
I’ve always struggled with the Parable of the Prodigal Son, mostly because I relate much more closely to the older son. A lot of this has to do with my relationship with my earthly family. As far as most people would see, I’m the “good” sibling. I’ve never wrecked my car, don’t drink or do drugs, was a straight A student my entire career, graduated suma cum laude, and was never in trouble (literally, I think I was grounded ONCE for about six hours). As an adult I make a point to go visit my parents, especially my mom who lives alone in a different part of the country from the rest of the family, have a relatively average American life with a regular job, a regular family, and a regular house. I’m basically Marsha Brady grown up. Or maybe Mrs. Cleaver, only slightly less perfect. But my parents, especially my mom, have always tended to favor my siblings. When my sister wrecked her cars (yes, plural) in underage drunk driving incidents, my dad helped her buy new ones both times. I have still never had a new car. My mom flies to the big city to visit my brother at least three times a year, but since she moved four years ago has only visited me twice, both times since my son was born. When I graduated from high school, my gift was a computer to use in college. It was used, about 7 years old, and had a battery life of about 5 minutes. My brother later that year, two years before he would even graduate, was given a brand new Mac Book. Not even for a birthday or anything, just so he could do “schoolwork” on it. I don’t want to complain, I know my parents love me, but it’s easy to feel jealous sometimes, like the older son.
I also relate more to the older brother for spiritual reasons. I’ve never gone spiritually deviant, never gone and done a bunch of crazy things just to see, never renounced or denied God. I’ve always done my best to be “good,” to follow the rules and to be kind and loving to others. And darned it if I don’t sometimes want that to bee appreciated! Where is my feast? Perhaps just a simple “thank you” or “good job” would be nice!
But notice how the second son finally humbles himself. He doesn’t ask for a big party, all he wants to do is work so he can earn some bread to eat. He humbles himself so far as to say “I don’t even deserve to be your son.” The first son, like me, is full of pride. “I did this, and I did that, and you don’t even care!” Of course the father cared! Everything he has is for his son! But the other son is too full of pride and bitterness to see the ways he has been appreciated. Like the fact that maybe even though his mom never visits, his dad always flies in for his birthday, for example. Or when his mom buys him new clothes because she knows he can’t afford to right now. Hypothetically.
Fortunately, I’m note quite as proud as the older son. I am very happy to share my inheritance with new Christians. Granted, my inheritance is essentially unlimited while his is not… And I probably wouldn’t feel the same way if we were talking about money… But that’s not the point. I don’t begrudge anyone their heavenly celebration, it would just maybe be nice to get one too.
But I think maybe part of the secret here is that I’m NOT the first son. Nobody is. We’re ALL the second son. We are all sinners, we have all failed God over and over and over again, and every time we are unworthy to be His children. Yet He always forgives us and takes us back with open arms. Maybe I’m not relating to the first son at all, but to the second son before he lost everything. But I’m SO proud that I actually think I’m the first son, when the first son is probably Jesus. Wow. Maybe if I could just find a little bit of the second son’s humility, maybe this whole thing would be a lot easier to see.