Sunday, March 18, 2007

Prodigal Son, Spoiled Brat?

I hate the Gospel reading for today - the story of the Prodigal Son - though it is not referred to this way in the Bible. There it is the story of the lost son. In case you don't know, the story goes like this:

. . . a man has two sons. The younger demands his share of his inheritance while his father is still living, and goes off to a distant country where he "wasted his substance with riotous living", and eventually has to take work as a Swineherd. There he comes to his senses, and determines to return home and throw himself on his father's mercy. But when he returns home, his father greets him with open arms, and hardly gives him a chance to express his repentance; he kills a "fatted calf" to celebrate his return. The older brother becomes angry, apparently jealous at the favored treatment of his faithless brother and upset at the lack of reward for his own faithfulness. But the father responds:

Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. (Luke 15:32, KJV)

So what is it about this story that I despise so much? I have always believed that if you work hard you will get your due. And, conversely, if you don't, you won't. This story bursts that bubble. Not only are the son's not treated equally, the less faithful one is treated better. To me, this scenario is antithetical to all that I want to believe. If he who is less faithful does as well, or better, why even try?

In trying to figure this out, I decided that maybe the best way to understand was to place myself in the shoes of each of the three characters - the father, the "good son", and the "bad" son.

ME AS THE FATHER: From a parental perspective, I hope that I love my children equally. But equally does not mean that they each receive the same things. To me equality means that their individual needs are satisfied equally. If one needs shoes and the other needs a jacket then that is what they should receive. So in the case if the sons in Luke, what does each of the sons need? The bad one needs forgiveness. The good one needs . . .? Maybe to be recognized for his faithfulness. But then, his father did say that all was his all the time.

ME AS THE GOOD SON: At the risk of sounding egotistical, it is easiest for me to relate to this character. Not because I believe that I am perfect, but because my faithfulness does not waiver. I believe that I should work hard and love the Lord: that is what I do.

ME AS THE BAD SON: In theory, I have no problem with this character. My faith tells me that all who come to the Lord and ask for forgiveness will be given forgiveness. So, why don't I like this guy? Maybe it is because I don't like to think of myself in his shoes. Who wants to see them self as a miserable failure begging to be taken back. The sad reality is that we all have reason to do so nearly every day. Perhaps our personal situation is not quite as dire, but we each have cause to ask forgiveness each day of our lives. And even harder than asking for it, is accepting it.
Why? Because it is hard to accept something that you are not sure that you could give if the shoe were on the other foot. I find it much easier to take the stand of the "good" son - why are we throwing a party for this smuck?

So, the father is forgiving but clueless to the feelings of the good son, the good son is faithful but bitter, and the bad son is lucky but a loser. Who do I want to be? I find myself wanting to say the father, "Let's try some tough love.", to the bad son, "Okay dude, get real!", and to the good son, "Screw them both. Get a life of your own." Based on these observations, it looks like I have further reflection to do on this story!

I know, I have missed the point. As I come crawling back, I ask for forgiveness.