The story of the prodigal son is about me, but not the way that many would think. See, I am the other son. I have spent my life in obedience, doing the right thing. While I have accomplished much in this way of life, it has come to be expected of me. Therefore, when I do something others would consider outstanding, I rarely get the congrats that anyone else would. I take pride in saying that I’ve never done this or have done that and I have a great wealth of memories from being a good person.
It can be difficult to witness celebration after celebration when I’ve never had the same reception for my own accomplishments. Yes, there are some conditions that make it tougher for some people to survive. For a child who doesn’t have a strong family or stable home, high school graduation might be but a distant dream. For that, celebrate. I understand the fortune I was blessed with by having direction in my younger years that helped shaped my vision of life and its possibilities. Much like the prodigal son’s brother, I had an upbringing that prepared me for success and I made the decisions to ensure that. It doesn’t mean that it was easy, but I certainly never lost hope or direction. So seeing the prodigal son walk off into the distance and come back to an incredible welcome can cause an array of emotions.
Just like the other son, I found myself stricken with jealousy, anger, and arrogance when invited to yet another celebration for one who chose the wrong path. I’d intentionally miss the occasion and stew alone, thinking that my absence sent my message of disapproval. I’d pretend not to notice the excitement of others as they shared the “good news” and instead discuss any and every other thing I could think of. This was all until recently.
I went to church and as the pastor began to start in about the prodigal son, I let out a sigh and considered leaving early. I’d grown far too tired of this story and never heard anyone talk about me, the other son. I related to him and wished that someone would tell his side of the story. And on this day, the pastor did. I expected to finally receive that long awaited congratulations for walking along the straight and narrow. I listened with a smirk ready to clap and amen as the pastor chastised others for not being more like the other brother. Instead, I learned that God has shown us all grace and mercy. It is because of that that some of us have had easier lives than others. While we might like to take the accountability for all of our decisions, that isn’t the case. I am where I am because I’ve been kept by grace and mercy that I could never truly earn, despite my best behavior. In fact, the other son understands this and has humbled himself to come home and ask for forgiveness, while I stand in the corner full of self righteousness and pride. I learned in that sermon that I too had sinned. In thinking that I am so much better than my own brother and that I had somehow earned a better place in my father’s house I had allowed jealousy, anger, bitterness, resentment, frustration, pride and self righteousness to take over me. From the outside looking in, I was the better brother, far ahead of him in life and in my Christian walk. However, the impurities in my heart made us even.
At the end of the sermon, I began to truly think about all of the opportunities I’d missed to show grace and mercy, although it was consistently being shown to me. Because of my obedience, I had spared myself turmoil and stress. Yet, I failed to recognize the blessing in that and thought it was what I deserved. While the prodigal son is working on building trust and respect, I was taking them for granted. As quickly as good fortune comes, it leaves. Instead of a pat on the back or celebration for my accomplishments, I left desiring that the same forgiveness and grace that was shown to the prodigal be shown to me. I prayed that my gifts could be used to benefit others. I asked for guidance and grace, mercy and humility. I learned to celebrate my brother. And when I do, our father is proud.