There has been a lot of talk floating around me lately about the story of the prodigal son.  You know, the guy who tells his dad he wants his inheritance – basically, “I wish you were dead” – and then fritters away all his money.  And then he comes back, apologizes, and his dad interrupts the apology to throw a party.  A lot of people really love this story, I think because they picture themselves as the son and God as the Father.  I think that was actually the point of the story in the first place.  But I really don’t like it.  Actually as I have been thinking about it lately, I kinda resent it.

See, I really like the older brother in the story.  To me his is the voice of reason.  “Hey Dad – I’ve been a good kid all this time, and you have done jack squat to celebrate me.  But you are throwing a party because your other kid, who has been a complete jerk, spent half your money on prostitutes.”  Let me point out here that it doesn’t even look like the older son was invited to the party – he was still out in the fields, working his tail off, while everyone else celebrates the return of the disrespectful, lazy, loser son.  His dad didn’t even tell him his brother was back – he got the news from a servant.  Honestly this looks more to me like an incredibly dysfunctional family than the way God should relate to His people.  This looks like a blatant display of the favoritism that every oldest child just knows is lurking in their parent’s heart.  I know it is a celebration of return…but it looks like a celebration of a sinful, squandered life.  And in a way, it flies in the face of most Old Testament teaching: obedience reaps blessing, disobedience reaps misery.  Here obedience is brushed aside, disobedience made of no importance.

Lots of people have stories like the prodigal – lives squandered, then redeemed.  I don’t have that story.  I mean, I know that on my own I am a lousy wretch.  And that whatever mess I have made of my life is redeemed.  But I became a follower of Jesus at a young age, and never did the prodigal thing.  I’ve pretty much been the older brother, dutifully slogging away – no drugs, no wild raging parties, no occult dabbling, no eating disorder, not even cigarettes – nothing to spice up my life story.  Like the older brother I may not have the best attitude about it, and my heart may not always be in the right place, but as far as actions go it’s been pretty straight-laced.  Not only does this make me feel like my personal story is inferior to those with more excitement, it makes me feel like I will always be just on the outside of the party, forgotten in the hullabaloo over the return of the wild ones, left out.

I’ve heard interpretations that we are all far from God, like the younger son.  That is true.  And I’ve also heard interpretations that maybe the older son is prodigal too – but in his heart, not his actions.  That is probably true too, and I identify with that.  I thought about wrapping up this post with those thoughts, that my heart is just as prodigal as some people in what they do, that spiritual pride is just as damaging to my relationship with God as blatantly walking away.  That would be a really great ending – a fine spiritual conclusion and an example of great introspective writing.  But it also wouldn’t be honest.  The honest truth is that I feel like wanderers get some extra measure of love and grace.  I know that “the same grace that saved them out of (fill in the blank) is the same grace that kept me from it,” and I truly am grateful for that, but I also feel second-class as far as God’s favor and also relating to people who don’t know Jesus.  In church we spent several months focusing on learning how to tell your spiritual story, and a few examples started out “I grew up in church and became at Christian at age 9” and I would get really excited, like maybe here is how to relate a boring story to other people…but then, inevitably, the college years would find them astray and once again I would find myself on the outside looking in.  It’s not that I don’t want other people to know Jesus, because I do.  I think that is wonderful.  I just wish the older brother and I were welcomed with the same enthusiasm.

This story has no real conclusion, and with the way I am rambling this post probably won’t either.  The dad just brushes off his slighted son: “You’ll get a reward someday, but right now we are celebrating your brother!” and it doesn’t say if the older brother came in and joined the fun, or if he went back out to the fields to work, or if he stormed upstairs and sulked in his room.  And maybe that is part of the point of the story too, that I can choose my response and be joyful at others’ coming to know and love God or be a party pooper.  But it just seems like his dad didn’t get his point: BORING PEOPLE WANT TO BE CELEBRATED TOO.

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