"A man had two sons..." Can you imagine if these two were real-life brothers, growing up in the same home? The elder would be charged with keeping a watchful eye on the younger. He'd know what he was up to -- no good -- and not up to -- any work that needed to be done. He'd feel superior, self-righteous.
Meanwhile, the younger son... Maybe he'd start by looking up to his brother, trying to emulate him. But it's just not him. He's got his own gifts. He might not be the hardest worker, but he knows how to have a good time. He's funny, charismatic, the life of the party. He relishes his own verve and wit, but all he gets in return are his brother's stern looks and judgments. Maybe his parents chime in too: Why can't you be more like your brother? The older son is confirmed in his righteousness, the younger in the belief that he can't get what he wants at home.
On the outside, I am all older son -- responsible, serious, practical homebody. I've never identified with the younger son -- or, perhaps it's more honest to say that I've never allowed myself to. My older son keeps my younger son firmly in check with no end of stern looks and judgments. The older son in me knows full well that if my younger son is left to his own devices, things will end badly. There will go the inheritance, squandered on a life of dissipation.
At the same time, my older son, while wanting to lock my younger son up at home, secretly and sometimes vehemently envies all the younger sons who leave home for distant countries. Younger sons know what they want -- and they ask for it: "Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me." And the father does. Older sons don't know what they really want -- maybe a party of their own with enough young goat for everyone? -- but they're not so sure, and they don't ask.
The younger son in the story moves out, and the older son is proved right, isn't he? The inheritance swallowed up by prostitutes. The younger son's road ends in the worst possible place -- a pig sty.
Or does it? In fact, the younger son's road ends in a U-turn. The end of the road is the beginning, only with fresh robes and rings and the fatted calf and a party to end all parties.
The parable ends without any meeting of the brothers. I wonder what such a confrontation might yield. What would the older brother see in the younger? The younger in the elder?
For Entering In...
- Where has God been in your day so far? Can you become quiet and notice the beating of your own heart and know that God is there, breathing along with you?
- Reflect on these questions:
- Is there a "younger son" in you that you deny? Time to dig deeper: What would you do if there were no consequences? To what far distant country would you travel? What would you do there?
- What are your judgments about what you want? What keeps you from asking? What are you afraid would happen if you allowed your younger son free reign with his portion of the inheritance?
- The father in the parable gives the younger son what he wants, even while, we presume, knowing how the son is likely to spend it. What do you think about this sort of radical freedom? What are the potential risks? The potential rewards?
- How might you live your life differently if you believed that the end of the road was never a pig sty, and always the chance to make a U-turn toward home?
- Breathe deeply and notice the air as it fills your body. Every breath is a gift, a dimension of the Father's bounty that belongs to us (Luke 15:22-23, 31). Carry that awareness back into your day.