Luke 15:1-2, 8-32
I am the oldest child in my family, and so I really “get” the feelings that made the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son refuse to go in the house to celebrate his brother’s return. I imagine him thinking, “That’s how it always goes around here. Little Bennie always gets whatever he asks for. Look what he did last time Dad caved and gave him money. He ran away from home, broke Dad’s heart. And who was left to clean up the pieces? Me, that’s who. Now here he is again, the center of everybody’s affection. ‘Poor little Bennie.’ Everybody’s so happy he’s back. And Dad’s lavishing even more expensive gifts on him, even now, after everything that he has done. The calf? I fed that calf and took care of it for months. But Bennie gets it, not me. I don’t even get a young goat so I can celebrate with my friends!”
But it’s obvious the father loves this guy. Noticing he isn’t at the party, he comes out of the house to talk to him. He cajoles him, tries to get him to see things from a bigger perspective. And here’s the line that transforms my heart. The dad says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” The eldest son has the fullest gift possible already. He has everything.
It’s a challenge for sure. Stepping out of the ego perspective of comparison, and punishment for wrongdoing, and blame, and holding grudges is not an easy thing to do. But knowing that I already have everything helps. It helps a lot.
This parable was for the Pharisees. They are the ones who are the elder sons. Jesus speaks to them about their Father’s love for them. They don’t need to work so hard. Nor do they need to compare, exclude, demand perfection, judge, or condemn. They already have everything they could possibly need. All that is God’s is already theirs. They can turn around and live – live out of the full abundance of belonging unquestionably to the Master of the Universe.
“But we have to celebrate your brother,” the father in the parable adds. “He was lost and now he is found.” The Pharisees have to celebrate the outcasts and sinners.
God says to me, “all that is mine is yours.” The gold of perfect sunsets and the sweet fragrance of dawn. Beautiful music, delicious poetry, dynamic and heartbreaking art. The Aurora Borealis and the waxing moon. Tall, sharp mountains and milky blue glaciers. The desolate emptiness of deserts, the moaning wind. Billions upon billions of stars, many with planets like ours circling them. The great nebulae visible through the Hubble Telescope. The strange fish near the heat vents on the ocean’s floor. All of it is mine. And so is all the love I could ever possibly need. That, too, is all mine.
And out of the experience of that fullness, maybe I can recognize and celebrate my brother. Maybe I can be a bit generous when he realizes he has blown it, repents, and returns home.
Loving Abba, help us realize that we can never lose you, and out of that realization love those around us who are making big mistakes. Help us let go of our tallies of sins, our judgments of actions, and our expectations of punishment and exclusion. Help us be as generous with one another as you are with us, because in you we are wealthy beyond belief. In the name of Jesus the parable-maker. Amen.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. She will soon manage a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries.