It wasn’t until fairly recently that I heard the gospel about the Prodigal Son without identifying strongly with the brother. The brother, so it seemed, was the responsible one, the one who stayed the course and worked hard for his father. He quietly did his job without fanfare or celebration, and then along comes his brother who rudely asks for his part of his father’s inheritance, squanders it immorally, and then, comes home in shame. Only his father doesn’t treat him with contempt. He treats him better than he treats the loyal son. This never seemed fair. That’s because I arrogantly assumed that I was doing the Father’s will and deserved something for that. Wrong!
Most people who identify with the brother think that the story ends there. But it doesn’t. The father goes out to the son, who is much too proud to come in and enjoy his brother’s homecoming, and begs his son to come in to the party. I can see the son. He folds his arms across his chest. He shouts out in righteous rage that he is not going to lower himself to celebrate the homecoming of his deadbeat brother! He is not going to enjoy any celebration for someone for whom he considers himself better. He refuses to accept his father’s love unless it’s only shown to him alone. If he has to share it with his irresponsible brother, forget it.
Isn’t that just like us? We consider ourselves better than others who live their lives less responsibly. We consider ourselves loyal to God because we go to church and obey most of the laws. We consider ourselves worthy of the Father’s love. And because of our pride and feelings of superiority, we refuse to accept the Grace of our Father. God is approaching us and we snub Him, because how great is His love if He offers it to everyone? And we are the ones who lose because we are left out in the cold while the guilty son is inside having fun at the party. The guilty son admitted his guilt and accepted the forgiveness his father offered him, and he gratefully celebrated his homecoming with the knowledge that he deserved none of it.
Now I understand the message. I want so much to be invited to the Father’s great celebration. I just hope I have the Grace and the Humility to accept the invitation knowing that the guest list is large and not exclusive, and that the party is not about me.