In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus tells his disciples the parable of the Prodigal Son. It is a story we all know well – the story of a profligate younger son, who asks his father for his share of his father’s estate, takes it and “squander[s] his inheritance on a life of dissipation.” Hungry and with no money, he finally comes to his senses and returns home, thinking to ask his father to hire him as a servant, believing it impossible that his father could welcome him home as a son. The father however, is filled with love for his son and welcomes him with open arms, throwing an enormous party to celebrate the son’s return, much to the unhappiness of the dutiful older brother, one of those types who does everything he is supposed to do, and looks down on those who don’t.
This is a passage I have prayed with often and I often suggest that others use in their prayer as well. It is a particularly good passage to pray with when we feel the need for forgiveness…especially when we question whether forgiveness is possible.
But it is good to remind ourselves that there are two brothers in this story, not just one – the profligate son and the dutiful son. When I give this passage to people to pray with, I suggest they pay attention to which they feel more drawn to. I suspect there is a little bit of both brothers in each of us. And it is good to ask ourselves:
When have I felt the shame of the younger brother? Have there been times I’ve been hesitant to turn to God to “face the music”? Do I lack conviction in God’s willingness to forgive me?
Or, where have I been the righteous older brother? Have there been times when I’ve resented someone else being taken off the hook? Felt like I should have been given more credit for doing the right thing? Are there times when I’ve been unable to worry about the love given to someone else, worried that they are getting something they don’t deserve?
There are a lot of ways to go in praying with this passage. So sit with it, put yourself in the scene, and see where it takes you.