The Prodigal Son, the Merciful Father, and the Envious Brother

The story of the Prodigal Son is a familiar one. The younger of a man’s two sons asks for his inheritance early, squanders it on fleeting pleasures, and then finds himself to be broke and hungry.

During this season of Lent, we can look to the Prodigal Son as an example of repentance. When he “comes to his senses,” as the story tells us, and realizes life with his father was better than the situation into which he had gotten himself, he chooses to return to his father with a contrite heart and ask for forgiveness.

When the son returns to his father, he is greeted with joy. The father does not ask where he has been, what he has been doing, or how he wasted all his money. He does not ask for repayment. He does not casts judgment. The father only cares that his son has returned home alive.

The beauty of God’s is that it doesn’t matter how far we have wandered from the Father’s house, we are always welcomed back into God’s embrace when we return.

If we compare the how the Prodigal Son spoke to his father with how the father spoke to his son, we notice a contrast of transaction and gift. That is to say, the son wants what he believed to be owed to him. Even though an inheritance is not given to any child while the parent is still alive, the father gives freely to his son. When the son returns, he thinks he will need to earn back a place in his father’s house as a hired hand. The father, once again, responds to his son by giving even more and celebrating his son’s return.

We may be tempted to stop here and reflect only on the younger son. But, his older brother also misunderstands the generosity of the father’s love. The older brother’s anger reveals his transactional relationship with the father too. He is envious of the celebration of his brother’s return because if anyone has earned a celebration it is him. He has done all the right things.

If you were the older brother, how would you respond to the father’s explanation?

“My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” Luke 15:31-32

How easy it is to feel envious of the good that comes to another because we feel that all of our hard work and good choices should have earned us something more than what we have.

God is not transactional. We are not owed anything from God; yet, God gives to us anyway. This Lent, may we take some extra time to reflect on the gifts we have been given by God and respond by becoming gift-givers ourselves too, giving grace and love to others.