Monday, October 19, 2009

the two sons

Taking time to stop and meditate on who I am, what I am about and where my values lie is a precious experience for me. Usually I am busy with lots of "to do" kinds of things and don't prioritize. (I need an hour to be quiet and think.)

Just finished a book, The Cross & the Prodigal. (Yes, the "and" sign is written like that, I don't take liberties with titles.) It's about the parable of the prodigal son. Only Kenneth Bailey makes the point that it is really about both sons. In our western perspective, the prodigal gets the limelight and the elder brother is kind of off stage. We skew the entire point of the story when we concentrate on the bad boy who realizes he's bad and comes home and is reconciled. It is very neat and tidy. It suits our ideas of mercy and grace. Of course, the part tacked on the end about the elder brother is disquieting. But we can ignore that part if we want to. After all, he's not the main point of the story. And his end is inconclusive. Does he go in to the party or does he stay outside and pout? We will never know.

Our society likes to tie the ends. Our entertainers only leave loose ends when there is going to be a sequel. But there isn't a sequel to "The Prodigal Son." There isn't a "The Elder Brother" to wrap it up.

In thinking on this, I suspect Jesus didn't "finish" the story because for many of us, it is about ourselves. In some ways, we are the elder brother. What Jesus was trying to tell us, and we miss the point because our point of view gets in the way, is that both brothers have broken their relationship with their Father. One by breaking the law and the other by keeping the law. The younger broke the law by willfully implementing his own agenda. The elder kept the law as an idol in the place of his relationship with his Father. By technically following all the requests and rules, he could live for himself, and pride himself in his own goodness.

Obviously we see where this is going. The pharisees were a bunch of older brothers. But I have fallen into that trap from time to time. What a scary thing.

We can never mend our own relationship with our Father: He does all the mending. But we have to be willing to be mended, know that we are broken. It is probably easier for prodigals to remember that. They have the "years of vanity and pride" to be remorseful about. But vanity and pride sneak in everywhere.

No comments: