If asked, “Are you familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son?” it is probably fair to assume most people would respond with some recollection of the parable. Basically, he is the brat kid that wished his father dead, took all his inheritance and squandered it, and then realizing that the swine he was taking care of were eating better than him, came crawling back to his “loving, open armed, actually-had-been-looking-for-him-on-the-horizon” daddy.
However, how many are aware that is only half of the story and he is not the only prodigal son? As one is returning, there is another on the verge of leaving. The older brother represents the pharisees to whom Jesus is recounting this parable. Like the older brother, the pharisees were not digging this new way of thinking. The prodigal son had disrespected his father; he deserved to be cast to the swine. (Remember the pharisees were the same men who established 600-plus commandments to create a vast chasm between themselves and the people they were proclaiming to lead in holiness.) This behavior of a father to restore this overt sinner was unconscionable yet, Jesus was clear, this is exactly how His Father operates.
I am a recovering pharisee. When I returned to practicing the Catholic faith, I quickly became an expert at the rules. Then the self-appointed Catholic police. I was very concerned about who was not following the rules according to my judgmental eye. The “holier” I felt I was growing, the more self-righteous I became. Entering the Church for Mass, I would quickly find my seat and kneel until Mass began. Now, I am all for kneeling in prayer until Mass begins; it is good to quiet our hearts and minds to prepare for receiving Jesus. However, truth be told, I was taking sideward glances to see who might be watching me be so pious! I would sing louder and respond quicker, all the time attempting to make my young sons pay attention and keep up our holy facade. The worse offense came during Holy Communion. After returning to my seat, I would stare down each and every person in line, along with a running commentary in my head, duly noting everything from their attire to whether they were properly disposed (or lack thereof) to even receive Jesus in the Eucharist.
This went on for a few months until I read, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2) That cured me.
I, like the other brother brooding in the field, thought my only way to God’s heart was in being perfect. It made me crazy that people who seemed to not be trying as hard were receiving the same reward. Yet, his father meets him where he is and pleads with him to come inside and rejoice with the lost being found, the sinner being forgiven—mercy being shown. The father reminds and reassures that all he has is still rightfully his, and that his loving of the other brother does not take away from their relationship or inheritance.
Interestingly, the parable ends unresolved; we never do know if the other brother enters the house. We are left to ponder the question: Will we enter the Father’s house because we were able to accept how He chooses to show mercy, or will we refuse and remain out in the cold?
All Rights Reserved, Allison Gingras 2016
FIRST APPEARED as Gospel Reflection on WINE: Women in the New Evangelization