The story of the Prodigal Son is arguably one of the most well-known parables in the Bible. If we were raised Christian, it is likely we role played the parable as a child. We know it is the story of the unbounded love of the father for the son, and that the father in the parable represents God.
Rembrant’s C17th oil painting of “The Return of the Prodigal Son”, is undoubtedly one of the most moving paintings ever painted, with the image of the humbled son in a wretched state kneeling before his father seeking forgiveness. As essential as the reality of understanding who the loving father is, in recent years I have found myself focusing perhaps more on the older brother.
Like many characters in the Bible, when we take the time to examine them, they can present themselves as some of the most fascinating individuals, due to the humanity they display and the emotions and questions they raise (ie: Pontius Pilate, King Herod). And so, the elder son, in today’s Gospel, comes to us as the model C1st Palestinian citizen and son.
What is important to remember is that from a societal point of view, the older brother has done nothing wrong, and what he asks for not only fits in with the accepted customs of the day, but would in all likelihood be considered legal for its time. He is quite justified in what he demands of his father.
The question then arises – is it enough to follow the law of the day alone, or are we called to something greater? Being a Christian goes beyond merely following the law and customs of the time, it means forgiving and allowing opportunity which may be beyond human reason. When I see that love being displayed in my society (of refugees being given a chance at a new life; of giving convicted criminals an opportunity to start again; of allowing people suffering addictions the resources to break their life strangling habits, etc), then maybe, maybe . . . I am witnessing the forgiveness, love and opportunity that the prodigal son’s father gives today. A love, forgiveness and opportunity that the socially acceptable elder son cannot see past. I then may see myself in that elder son’s shortcomings.