Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
—Luke 15: 31-32
This is the conclusion of Jesus’ famous parable, The Prodigal Son. As most of you know, the parable is about a younger son who takes and squanders his inheritance, then returns home full of remorse. His father runs to greet him, puts a ring on his finger and kills the fatted calf for a homecoming feast.
The elder brother just doesn’t understand. “Listen!” he protests to his father, “I have worked like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.” The father tries to explain how he feels in the above words.
Of course, this parable is more about the father than it is about either son. Jesus tells the story so his listeners can begin to understand what God is like: full of love, always accepting repentant sinners. As many commentators note, it should be known as The Loving Father, not The Prodigal Son.
But what about that elder brother? Have you ever felt the way he does? Most of us have, at one time or another, especially those of us who are either eldest children or those of us who try our best to "color in the lines" and not cause trouble. What is Jesus saying to us?
Fred Craddock, one of America’s best preachers, says the message of this parable is that forgiveness is not the same as condoning, even if it looks like it. This gives me a much deeper understanding of forgiveness. The one forgiven is not loved more, nor is his behavior overlooked. He is just accepted the way I want to be accepted when I too go badly astray, recognize it, and come home.
Thank you, gracious God, for knowing each of us better by far than we know ourselves. Help us to offer, and to accept forgiveness. Amen.
Copyright ©2005 Margaret Jones.