I spent a good part of my evening last night meditating on the Parable of the Prodigal Son and trying to find a different angle. I kept coming back to the figure of the older son. There are different ways to approach the older son and interpret his actions, motives, and relationship to his father and younger brother. Why was he so reluctant to accept the return of his brother and his father’s mercy and generosity? Jealousy and pride are possible reasons that Henri Nouwen has expanded upon in his writings. Last night, I considered another possibility: his reluctance to change. The return of his younger brother would be a major change in the life of the older son. He would now have to share what was left of his father’s wealth with someone who squandered it. He would have to accept back into his life someone who had rejected his father’s love. So this return, if you go a little deeper, would totally alter the life of the older son. It is a change that he was not willing to embrace because of his angry reaction to the great feast his father had thrown. Yet this change in his daily life, which was initiated by his father’s love and mercy, would liberate him to love and forgive as it did for his younger brother who initially tried to scheme his way back into their lives but ended up being totally embraced and transformed by their father.
We can identify with all three characters in this parable, but today let us ponder the reluctance to change of the older son. We are so much like him. We want things to stay the same. We don’t want our well-ordered lives to be rocked. We don’t understand that embracing God’s love and mercy implies a radical transformation of our lives. The parable ends with the father explaining to the older son his motives for welcoming back his youngest son with a great feast. We don’t hear the older son’s response. It’s as if the Lord is seeking a response from us as well. How do we respond to God’s gracious mercy? How do we respond to change?