Micah 7:14-15, 18-20
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
In the story of the prodigal son, the father’s great love compels him to sit at the window, waiting and waiting for his son to come home. He knows the boy has sinned, dishonored the family, sunk to the depths of tending pigs (anathema to Jews), and wasted the inheritance his father worked so hard to accumulate. In fact, for a son to request his inheritance in those days meant that he wished his father dead. It had to be excruciatingly painful to endure, and many parents would tearfully disown and turn their backs on such a child. And yet this God-like father waited and waited for his son to see the light, to embrace love, and to come home.
We aren’t told at the end of the story what happens after the father goes out to talk to the eldest son. Perhaps he sadly returns to the house, but he can’t really take part in the party because now his other beloved son is estranged, trapped not by selfishness and greed but by resentment and self-righteousness. Perhaps the father sits again at the window, waiting and waiting for his eldest son to see the light, embrace love, and come home.
Neither the prodigal nor the eldest son got to their attitude or actions all at once. Each decision, each choice, led them down that path. The prodigal son made bad decision after bad decision as he slowly sank into depravity. The eldest son made "good" decision after "good" decision, but allowed each one to feed his sense of entitlement, superiority, and self-righteousness. The prodigal felt he deserved nothing; the eldest son felt he deserved everything.
Where am I on that continuum? Having spent most of my life trying to do the "right" things, being the "good" girl, and staying on the straight and narrow path, I fully understand the eldest son’s indignation. It isn’t fair according to human reckoning for someone so undeserving to be given the kind of treatment we believe should be reserved for those more worthy (especially when I consider myself among the "worthy" group). Yet that is every bit as much of a sin. In effect, I dare tell God not to forgive freely, not to lavish love upon us, and not to celebrate the repentance of grievous sinners. As Richard Rohr often says, "Sometimes those who do everything right get everything all wrong."
Few of us are guilty of the sins of the prodigal. I suspect that many more of us are guilty of the eldest son’s self-righteousness, judgment, exclusion, resentment, and holier-than-thou attitude. This Lent, perhaps we need to examine the sinful attitude that "good" decisions can feed in us. Perhaps we need to open our own arms to the prodigals among us, even to the point of treating them the way we feel we deserve to be treated. After all, God died to show that they deserve it, too, and God is waiting at the window for us to see the light, embrace love, and come home.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.