What if the Prodigal Son met the Older Brother First?
Mallory Smyth
483

I think part of the Parable is that we are ALL the older brother.
We want fairness and to get our fair share. The older brother is in fact being very reasonable. The point of the Parable is that God’s love isn’t reasonable, it’s extravagant and a little crazy. Yes, and unfair.
Brant Pitre touches on this well in his reflection on last Sunday’s readings. He notes how the Parable is the third of three stories: the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son. The recurring theme is how insane and obsessive the protagonists are in going after the precious thing that is lost…not reasonable or rational at all. The shepherd abandons the 99 in the wilderness, the woman goes nuts over one coin, and the father throws a party for his son that wasted half his property partying. Really. Crazy.
They might be better called: the Obsessive Shepherd, the Obesessive Woman, and the Obsessive Father.
The older brother is right. It is unfair. The father is being crazy. The point should not be to correct or shame the older brother, but to convert his heart through that same extravagant love. I believe that Mother Teresa said: “Love does not calculate the costs.”
The young man you meet is also the older brother. He has a reasonable objection to the whole Christ thing. I like your explanation. But it’s still an attempt to give a reason. The father in the Parable didn’t reason…he appealed to the older son’s heart. “You are always with me…All I have is yours…He was lost and now is found, was dead and is alive again…We must celebrate and rejoice!” He implores…he entreats the older brother…’Come share in the Father’s joy.’
While reason and apologetics have their place, the core of the Gospel is that invitation to joy.
So I would posit that the better ‘explanation’ of the Incarnation is because God is an extravagant Father. We reject him and wander far from him…and he is crazy in love with us. He isn’t fair or reasonable to us…the moment we repent and turn to him, he embraces us with all he has and celebrates with infinite joy.
Which brings us to the real conundrum. Do we as Church embody Our Father’s Welcome? We are sinners. We are reasonable like the older brother. We need to be constantly reminded and renewed in the Father’s joy…it’s what we celebrate every Sunday. But too often it is merely rote.
The saints have that joy. The popes too.
We need to open ourselves more to it.
Too often people call parishes and get a voicemail system or a sour, too-busy-to-be-bothered-to-talk-to-a-new-person attitude. We treat people like numbers to be managed rather than people to be cherished. I have heard so many heartbreaking stories of rude parish secretaries, of signing up or offering to volunteer and never hearing back…we get so busy with business that we become the busy older brother working in the field until late and resentful of the party.
May we all be constantly transformed in the joy of Christ.

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