In church this week we talked about the story of the Prodigal Son. This is a parable known by almost anyone who has ever graced the church with their presence. It is nearly as popular as the 23rd psalm.
I began talking to the folks who had gathered for our worship that this parable had caused my aunt and uncle to stop going to church. They felt it was unfair that the younger son was welcomed back into the family with no consequences. They completely related to the older son, whom they called "the responsible one." They felt he had a right to be angry with the father for welcoming back the prodigal, who had been rude and wasteful. It was a stumbling block for them, and I'm sad to say they never returned to church.
But this is a story about grace. Not just grace and forgiveness toward a son who essentially disowned his family and squandered his inheritance, but grace and forgiveness for the older brother whose own self interest kept him from celebrating the joy and relief his father felt when the younger returned. This is not a story about the world's justice, which might have accepted the younger brother's return, but would have exacted logical consequences such as having to pay back the money or work it off. This is instead a story about God's love, which time and time again says, "no matter what you've done, if you decide to come back to me, you have a home. Always."
We all have a bit of the prodigal and the older brother in us when it comes to our relationship with God. It's not so far-fetched to see that we have at some time or other asked God for all his goodness and bounty, and then headed off in our own self-motivated direction without even a second thought to the One who gave us everything. It's also not so far-fetched to see that we have often-times begrudged others their place in the family of God because of some misbehavior that we perceive.
The shared characteristic of the two brothers at the end of the story is this: they are both home, and in the company of a parent who loves them beyond measure. That should be enough for them to love one another. It should be enough for all of us, too. I only wish my aunt and uncle could have known, in their later years, that same comfort.