Reflection by: Mr. Tim Habeeb, Student, Lay Formation Programs of Saint John's Seminary
I am not the older son. I may relate to him, feel bad for him, identify with him… but I am not him.
It took me a long time to come to this realization, because for years when I heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the older brother; the one who was faithful, hard-working, and obedient to his father’s will. The one who, in the end, feels neglected and forgotten. The one who feels like he never received a reward for all the good that he did, while his younger brother went off, spoiled his inheritance, and returned to a grand celebration. I feel for him. Doesn’t he have a right to be upset? I think it’s natural for us to look at this situation and ask, “Where is the justice?”
But the scriptures have a special way of speaking to us differently in light of our openness and particular situation. God always seems to reveal to us the truth that we need to hear at the right time, even after we have read or heard a story several times before. That moment came for me while praying with the Parable of the Prodigal Son during Lectio Divina on a retreat.
It took about twenty years of hearing the parable for me to finally come to my senses like the younger brother before he returns home: I am not the older son. I have my own pride to blame for preventing that revelation from occurring sooner. “I do good things,” I would tell myself. I serve people. I work for the Church. I’m a holy person. Although some truth may be found in each of those, they are not true to the extent that I was telling myself. I wasn’t being honest with myself. I wasn’t taking a deep look at my life.
There have been too many times to count when I have fallen short. In fact, and I think this may be true for most of our lives, my life is really the story of the prodigal son on repeat. God grants me the gift of his love, and I take that gift and run off with it, spoil it, mess up, forget who I am, and completely neglect what I’ve been given. Then eventually, like the younger son, I come to my senses and run back to God, and He receives me with open arms. He receives me with grace and mercy and forgiveness, and in that moment, there is no greater feeling of love. But how quickly that fades away when I leave that place to go off and mess it up all over again.
The truth is, we are all the prodigal son. And when we feel like we aren’t, or we have those times in our lives where we start feeling like the older brother, those are the times that we let our pride get the best of us. None of us are worthy of the love that God grants us.
It was pride that kept the older son from going inside and joining in the celebration at the end of the parable. Afterall, he was certainly welcome in his own house. But his pride kept him outside. Although the feast was in honor of his brother’s return, it was a feast that was open to the whole family. Had he just gone into the house, he could have enjoyed the same fattened calf and taken part in the same reward that his brother had received. We don’t know what the older brother chose to do once his father went to plead with him, but I would like to hope that he too came to his senses and decided to go inside to celebrate.
Lent is a season of “coming to our senses.” It is a season of recognizing our need for change, our need for conversion, our need for returning home, and our need for God. How easy it is for us to lose sight of these things throughout our lives.
“Coming to his senses,” the prodigal son recognized his need to return home. As we reach the half-way point of our Lenten journey, may we all come to our senses like the prodigal son. We may approach this in different ways according to our varying struggles, but no matter the approach, if we are honest with ourselves and honest with God, the result will always be the same – when we return, we will be greeted by a loving father, running to embrace us and welcome us home.
“Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father.”