"A man had two sons..." That's how the parable begins. The next part, the part we know the best, is about the younger son who takes his share of the estate, skips town, parties 'til he's broke, then comes crying home.
The older son doesn't come in until near the end. That figures, says the older son in me.
It is the older son with whom I most often identify. He's the one who stays at home. He's the one working away in the fields. He does the right thing. He helps his father. He doesn't cause any trouble. He doesn't ask for anything, not so much as a goat.
I'll bet he's a good Jew. Always says his prayers. Follows God's Law to the letter. Except for the part where we're called to "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:9). I know, because the Father practically begs this older son to come in to the party, and the son won't come. "Taste and see that the Lord is good," the Father seems to say, but his older son cannot.
Neither can I sometimes. Like the older son, I get tired, sick and tired. The party started while I was still out in the field (v. 25). As a matter of fact, my Father's other son (no brother of mine) has been partying all his life while I've been shoveling the manure. I'm in no mood to celebrate and rejoice (v. 32).
But the party will go on, with or without the older son, with our without me. The parable ends with the question implied: Will he go in, or won't he?
For Entering In...
- Take a deep breath. Close your eyes and feel the surface you're sitting on, notice your body in space. Think about where you believe your soul resides and breathe into that space, knowing God dwells there too.
- Reflect on these questions:
- In what ways have you, like the older son, tried to do the right thing with your inheritance? When have you chosen to remain at home in spite of the lure of the distant country? What are the fields you've labored in?
- The older son is resentful because he believes that his sacrifice has gone unrecognized (v. 29), not unlike the lament of Cain in Genesis (4:5ff). Consider sacrifices you feel you've made. Is there something you've expect in return? Accolades? Thanks? Acknowledgement? Be honest. How does has it felt to you if those expectations have not been met?
- Can you think of a time when you've seen someone get something you don't believe they deserve? Maybe an advancement at work? Money or other material wealth? Some other sort of success? Or, like the younger son in the parable, excessive pardon for wrongs committed? How has that made you feel?
- Jesus repeatedly uses images of celebration to describe what it's like to enter the Kingdom of God (see Matthew 22 and Luke 14). Do you ever feel reluctant to enter into the party? If so, what is that like for you? What is keeping you out?
- Breathe deeply again 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 15:31). Carry that awareness back into your day.