The story of the Prodigal Son is a familiar, if somewhat troubling, one.
The younger brother in the tale demands his portion of his father’s estate (prior to his father’s demise), gets it, and moves away to a foreign country to live a wild life. When the money runs out and he finds himself living in shameful squalor, he swallows his pride and returns home to beg a place among his father’s servants. Instead of refusing his younger son, the father reinstates him in the family and throws a party for his return. The older, faithful brother who never left complains that his father’s reaction is unfair and that his own faithfulness has never been rewarded.
I’ve heard the story like a billion times, and I’ve always puzzled over the lesson to be learned. I understand it from the point of the younger brother. He makes a string of bad choices, realizes his mistake, and returns to find forgiveness. The way this story is often taught, the listener is encouraged to identify with the younger son and be thankful for God’s forgiveness. Maybe the lesson we are taught is that we shouldn’t make poor choices in the first place, but when we do, we should repent.
The troubling part of the story is when we identify with the older brother instead. After all, the younger brother severely messed up and shamed the entire family. Just because he says he’s sorry, should he really be forgiven and reinstated in the family? Isn’t celebrating his return just another way of enabling his bad choices? To these thoughts, we are often taught that the older brother shouldn’t think these things, because what happens between the father and the younger son shouldn’t concern the older brother. He shouldn’t resent his faithfulness just because his younger brother’s faithlessness turned out okay.
I always thought the lessons ended with the two brothers… until recently.
What happens when we are placed, not in role of the brothers, but the father?
Yes, it is hard to admit you were wrong and plead for forgiveness like the younger son does. And yes, it is hard to not compare yourself to those around you and continue in your faithfulness despite your perceived lack of reward like the older brother must do. But the hardest part of this story to understand is the father’s.
When someone you love wrongs you deeply, acts as though you might as well be dead, and then returns to ask your forgiveness, are you so quick to rejoice at their return? What do you do with feelings of bitterness and pain? How do know that the person who wronged you won’t do it again?
There are many lessons to be learned from the story of the Prodigal Son, but I think the one that is hardest to put into practice is to forgive as the father does.
Have you ever been wronged like this? How do you put away the pain?