THE OTHER SON
Without doubt, the parable of Jesus that’s most captivating is the one about the «good father», wrongly called «the parable of the prodigal son». It’s precisely this «younger son» who has always attracted the attention of commentators and preachers. His return home and the unbelievable welcome he received from his father have moved Christians of all generations.
However the parable also speaks about the «older son», a man who stays home with his father, without imitating the licentious life of his brother, far from home. When they inform him of the party organized by his father to welcome the lost son, he remains upset. His brother’s return doesn’t make him happy, like his father, but mad: «He was angry then and refused to go in» to the party. He never left home, but now he feels like a stranger among his own family.
The father goes out to invite him with the same tenderness with which he has welcomed his brother. He doesn’t shout or order. With humble love «he tries to persuade him» to come into the welcome home party. It’s then that the son explodes, making his resentment known. He’s spent his whole life fulfilling his father’s orders, but he hasn’t learned to love as his father loves. Now all he knows how to do is demand his rights and put his brother down.
This is the tragedy of the older son. He’s never left home, but his heart has always been far away. He knows how to fulfill commandments but he doesn’t know how to love. He doesn’t understand his father’s love for that lost son. He doesn’t welcome or forgive him, he doesn’t want to know anything about his brother. Jesus ends his parable without satisfying our curiosity: does he enter the party or does he stay outside?
Caught up in the religious crisis of modern society, we’ve gotten used to talking about believers and non-believers, about practicing Christians and fallen-aways, about marriages blessed by the Church and couples living together… While we keep classifying God’s children, God keeps waiting for us all, since God isn’t property of good people or of practicing Christians. God is Father of all.
The «older son» challenges those of us who think we live near the Father. What are we doing, we who haven’t abandoned the Church? Are we keeping up our religious existence by observing what’s commanded the best we can, or are we witnesses of God’s great love for all God’s sons and daughters? Are we building open communities who know how to understand, welcome and accompany those who seek God in the midst of doubts and questions? Do we raise barriers or do we build bridges? Do we offer friendship or do we look on others with suspicion?
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf