This is what I was thinking during Deacon Roger’s homily this morning. Today’s gospel reading was from Luke 15:1-32. (The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Prodigal Son)
I have heard these parables so many times before, that I wasn’t expecting to have a new perpective on them today. I’ve identified for many years with the prodigal son. I went away and wasted my life. I sought pleasure in sinful ways. I’ve experienced the loneliness, remorse, shame, desperation, and sorrow that I imagine he felt. I have known humility and the joy of God’s love and mercy. (I have meditated on Rembrandt’s painting, shown above.) He gave me a new life and I was grateful. I wanted to serve Him and I stayed in close contact with Him.
But not perfectly. I’ve been the lost sheep. I wander off and at some point I find myself on my knees. And He sees I’m lost and comes to get me. And He picks me up and holds me close. And I remember how much He loves me. And I thank Him for always being there for me. (I have often meditated in churches on sheep paintings or mosaics.)
I could be the lost coin, but it’s hard for me to identify with an inanimate object. I’ve just never gone there. No lost coin meditations. And I didn’t think I was the prodigal son’s brother either… until today.
When I used to hear the story, I would be happy that I was lost, but then found. I was dead, but now alive. And I thought the brother was a jerk for not being happy for his brother’s return. Today, I realized that I’ve been the brother!
Somehow, over the years since my own return, I got lost again, right here at home. I started to believe that after all the sacrifices I have made for God, that he should do what I want. Of course, I didn’t realize I was thinking that way. But I know as I came out of the fog, I’d hear myself say things like: I’ve worked so hard and let God lead me in so many areas of my life. So why do I have to do more?
Maybe I thought that if I worked hard and didn’t complain (verbally) that I would be happy in Heaven someday. I don’t know, but it only made me angry and resentful. I believe God wants obedience more than sacrifice, and that He wants me to obey him out of love for Him, not to get what I want. The anger I didn’t know I had, kept me away from the closeness to Him that I could have been enjoying.
Now I see that the poor brother was lost too. He tried so hard to please his Dad, but he had certain expectations and some selfish motives hidden from even himself. He was self-righteous and proud that he was the “good” son. He was giving himself pats on the back and didn’t realize that he too had many faults. He wasn’t humble. He lacked compassion and had a hardness of heart that kept him from feeling His father’s love for him. His father loved him SO much… not for all the good things he did, but because he was His beautiful son. The brother needed to let go of his anger, forgive his prodigal brother, and have compassion for his brother and for himself as well. He needed to surrender his own will, trust his father and feel His love.
Deacon Roger pointed out that the parable doesn’t say what happened to the brother. But I know he can enjoy his life. He can be emotionally close to his father. He can be loving to all, even himself. He can be grateful for what he has and for having such a generous, merciful and loving father. His father is not a slave driver. He really cares. He wants what’s best for His children. And He knows what’s best for them, even though He lets them choose whether or not to trust Him. And you know how I know? I’ve been the brother!