The story of the prodigal son never fails to spark some lively theological conversation between Carol and me. We’re both eldest children…and frankly, while we appreciate the point of the parable (God’s infinite love and mercy, blah, blah, blah), we both harbor some suspicions about God’s parenting. I mean, let’s face it…the eldest child got hosed. Responsible parents just don’t behave that way.
The burden of being the eldest child isn’t just about the added responsibility we carry with regard to our siblings, but also about taking the brunt of our mother’s and father’s “failings” as first-time parents. We are so often plagued with a profound sense of injustice, and I think we carry that with us for a long time.
These days, having watched our children grow and become parents themselves, Carol and I are more inclined to see Luke 15:11-32 through the eyes of the father, rather than those of the eldest child. As a parent, you realize that while you love your children equally, you love them for who they are — which, of course, means differently. As sinners saved by grace, we know that we fall short of the perfect (i.e., unconditional) love of God, as expressed in our Old Testament and psalm readings — but any parent can certainly relate to how God feels about Her children.
If he is to grow in grace, the eldest son needs to realize that celebrating the return of his wayward sibling takes nothing away from him. His father’s love was always a given. When we truly believe in a God as loving as the God of Micah, concepts such as “fairness” seem more like a way of keeping score. And when you are as loved by God as we are, who has time for that?
God’s love isn’t a zero-sum game — so go hug your brother and help yourself to another slice of the fatted calf. There’s plenty to go around.
Grant, most merciful Lord, to your faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.