Last night at the student scripture reflection we read the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke's Gospel. It's one of my favorite passages for many reasons, but last night, one of the students, Aarti, a bright young Occupational Therapy student, had a great question/insight...
"We don't know if the brother ever went and embraced the prodigal brother as the father did."
She's right! It's true! And it's something I always wondered about too. Did the brother go into the party or did he sit outside sulking all night? I also wonder if the younger brother, the prodigal son, ever came out to plead forgiveness of the older brother for leaving him with all the work on his father's estate?
We don't know. The author doesn't say.
Raymond Brown, the great scripture scholar, reminds us that Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and that parables are always stories where you think you know what the ending is going to be, but then Jesus twists some irony into it. So the Pharisees think that they are the Father in the story as they hear Jesus telling it, but then this character of the older brother is introduced and the Pharisees begin to see that they hold these resentments towards those they look down on.
How am I the older brother? My parents and sister often chide me that I work very hard for the needs of others but neglect them in the process. My wife often tells me that I sometimes treat those I minister to nicer than I treat her. I know I resent the old hurts that have been inflicted by family and close friends a lot more than those who I meet through a ministerial route. Do I sit an sulk outside as well? Do I neglect my family in favor of my own haughtiness?
Do I expect more from family and friends? And therefore am I less willing to forgive? Jesus reminds me here that my forgiveness needs to have no boundaries. That I need to drop my resentments and come into the party where we will dance with great joy, rejoicing over what has been found again.
And what else is found over and over again for us? We find a forgiving father who always is there running out to meet us, again and again, despite our own stupidity. God runs to greet us as if he thought we were dead, but now have come to life again.
Do we have the love in our hearts to greet all those who offend us with the same embrace?
Your humble blogger is Mike Hayes, a well-known expert in the world of young adult ministry (20s and 30s) in the Catholic Church. Mike is the author of Googling God (Paulist, 2007) where he explores both the chaotic world that young people live in and their religious reactions to that world. He also explores the age of instant gratification and how churches can respond to the needs of the young adult age by using technology alongside more traditional ministry methods.
Mike founded the award winning BustedHalo.com® in 2001 and continues to contribute to it as the editor of their catechetical section appropriately named Googling God.
Recently, he left BustedHalo® to focus on more direct ministry with young people at St Joseph University Parish as a Campus Minister for the South Campus at the University at Buffalo.
He has only two loves: his adorable wife, Marion and a nine pound chihuahua named Haze, who still find him amusing enough to let them live in their home.