“But what about me?” says the other son. And with him I, too, say “Yeah, what about me?”
More about the other son in a minute.
But first, what about the prodigal son? You realize, of course, that the little titles in your Bible are not inspired and are technically not part of the Bible. While we’re at it, the chapters weren’t introduced into Bibles until the 13th Century and verses not until the Geneva (or “Breeches”) Bible of the 16th Century.
My point is that I think another good title for the story might be not “The Prodigal Son” but “Two Faithful Sons.” “Two,” because there is that other son, and “Faithful” because in the end the prodigal son is transformed into a faithful son.
Since this is Ash Wednesday, I want to focus on the repentance of the Prodigal Son, who is, after all, us. Did you notice the way the prodigal son returned? He manifests a kind of repentance that isn’t as common as it ought to be. Though he’s obviously been thinking about it for a while, when he finally returns to his senses and to his father, the prodigal (now faithful) son doesn’t hold anything back. He doesn’t make excuses for how he acted. He doesn’t bargain with the father and try to hold on to some of his former evil lifestyle.
No, what he says is “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.” This is a fair estimate of our position before God, and yet sometimes we want to come to God with some of the spoils of Hell still intact. But not this now faithful son.
The prodigal son’s return is dramatic, and sometimes when someone repents and returns to his heavenly Father, it is a dramatic affair. When it is, often that returning sinner gets a lot of attention and some of us other sons are tempted to become jealous over the lavish attention that is paid.
What the other son didn’t remember and what we don’t always remember is that those of us who have walked with God for a long time and not seriously backslidden are allowed to eat and drink with our Father every day and to enjoy His company. But sometimes we get too accustomed to it to appreciate what is offered so freely every day. What we don’t realize is that it’s possible to live in our Father’s house and yet still live as a little prodigal. We may not have walked away from God completely, and yet because we do not fully participate in the life of Christ as we should, we become little prodigals, wasting the incredible gifts that God offers His sons and daughters every day.
And then one day I woke up and realized what a blessing it was to have always been in my Father’s house – I just hadn’t realized it. Which is more of a miracle? The life of the prodigal son who has a dramatic conversion from a life of utter depravity or the life of a faithful son God has held in His hand from the day of his birth? Like the “other” son in today’s parable, I was in danger of becoming the true prodigal by wasting God’s good gifts to me? How? By refusing to be thankful for what He had given me.
So then, it is a reason to celebrate every time a sinner repents, as often as a sinner repents, even Christian sinners. But it is also a reason to celebrate every day that is spent in our Father’s house as a faithful son or daughter. In either case, we must be on our guard against sin, the sin that stems from a lack of thankfulness. On the one hand, the Prodigal Son was so unthankful for his father’s goodness that he went and wasted all he had been given. On the other hand, the other son was unthankful when he compared himself to the prodigal son.
It may seem an odd way to start Lent. It is for me. But maybe a place to begin this year in examining our sins is to catalog the ways in which God has blessed us and to measure our lack of thankfulness and the other sins that stem from this. It may seem odd, but Lent and our fasting from certain things should ultimately lead us to thankfulness, which is related, in this case, to repentance.
Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Resolution/Point for Meditation: I resolve to rejoice with those who repent and to celebrate every day I spend in my Father’s house. I pray that I may never take the good life God has given me with Him for granted but would seek the joy that comes from obedience, whether the obedience that follows repentance or the obedience that follows faithfulness.
© 2016 Fr. Charles Erlandson