March 18, 2007
LENT IV (C)
Now we must celebrate and rejoice…. – Luke 15: 32
One of the reasons why this story is so popular is the strong emotional undercurrent: there are few things so touching as reconciliation after estrangement. But that is only half the story – the other half is determined aloofness. We too easily minimize the older brother, perhaps because he is uncomfortably close to our own mind set. In their own way, BOTH brothers had become estranged from their father.
The younger son obsesses on his mistake, holding on to it. Although the father shows no sign of holding on to it, the son is not able to let go. He is one of those people who cannot forgive themselves, & so they assume that God cannot forgive them either. In effect, they are playing God.
Letting go of sin is different from repressing a memory of wrongdoing. When we repress a mistake, it only waits for the opportune moment to reappear & undercut our capacity for joy. When we let go of past sins, we can remember them without identifying with them. Then they can be triggers for gratitude & compassion. Instead of interfering with joy, they promote it.
The older brother represents those people who see themselves as righteous. When we cannot serve the Lord in joy & gladness, we look for reward. When we work for external rewards & not from inner abundance or joy we eventually end up with a resentment that is born of comparison & perceived inequality. The older brother evaluates himself in relation to the younger brother &, not surprisingly, comes off favorably. He has obeyed his father’s commands while his brother has squandered his inheritance with wild partying. These are hard facts that cannot be denied.
But such calculations are not part of the father’s equation. Grace is given to WHOEVER is ABLE to receive it. When the reward driven mind encounters such indiscriminate grace, it regards it as unjust because this does not play the game of merit. It erupts in resentment. We instinctively understand the older brother because his mindset is deeply embedded in each of us.
The acknowledgement of grace should make us rejoice. After all, our Lord said that He came that we might have HIS joy, & have it abundantly. When we cannot, it is usually because either (1) we are attached to our past sins & so cannot quite believe that we are sons & daughters of God, or (2) we expect reward & are resentful & envious. Either option keeps us from joy. Only when we break the stranglehold of these two blocking mindsets will be able to hear the music in the house & know that we are home. AMEN!