On the outside, looking in. Seething with judgment, whose source is actually hurt feelings. That’s where the older brother found himself. And inside? A feast.
Have you ever been there? In that space where righteous pride swells to the point that it squeezes all of the oxygen out of your soul and the joy out of your spirit?
I like to think I don’t live there, but that’s a country I visit now and then, for sure. In my most spiritually evolved seasons, I let even the big offenses go, feeling their wounds but not falling in love with every bruise. But I have to admit that there are times when I wallow in my own hurts, becoming attached to how right I have been – and how wronged.
I see the older brother in this most beautiful parable thinking that he’s forcing his loving father into a choice: “Which will it be? Him? or Me?” But the parental heart of this father doesn’t work that way. Love isn’t a zero-sum game. The heart is an expansive muscle, and if this father had many sons and daughters, his heart would expand to love them all … in their profligacy or their rigidity.
I know the pained righteousness of the older brother, and I know his awareness that it’s cold outside, and he’s hungry. And I know the parent’s prodigal love, saying, “Won’t you come in and let yourself be loved?”
How much more so with God.
Susie Webster-Toleno is the minister of a wee UCC congregation in a hilly village in southern Vermont, as well as a hospice chaplain.
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