Father and sons
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Jesus tells a story:
"'This prodigal son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So everyone began to celebrate.
"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. He became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.'"
Jesus most famous parable is not just about the rebel son; it's about the hero son as well. He stayed home and didn't stray from the responsibilities given him by his father. But he didn't feel appreciated, nor did he feel grateful for the trust his father placed in him. Resentment quietly built up. And silently, secretly, he became "lost" even as he slept in his own bed every night.
Long-time priest Henri Nouwen writes in "The Return of the Prodigal Son:"
The more I reflect on the elder son in me, the more I realize how deeply rooted this form of lostness really is and how hard it is to return home from there. My resentment is pernicious: something that has attached itself to the underside of my virtue. Isn't it good to be obedient, law-abiding, hardworking and self-sacrificing? But it seems that just as I want to be most selfless, I find myself obsessed about being loved. Just when I do my utmost to accomplish a task well, I find myself questioning why others do not give themselves as I do. Just when I think I am capable of overcoming my temptations, I feel envy toward those who gave in to theirs.
Here, I am faced with my own true poverty. I am totally unable to root out my resentments. They are so deeply anchored in the soil of my inner self that pulling them out seems like self-destruction. How to weed out these resentments without uprooting the virtues as well?
In his loneliness Nouwen noticed that the father seeks out his elder son just as he did the younger. He asks him to come in; and he is gentle with him when he says, "My son, my child, you are with me always, and all I have is yours." His father does not defend himself or judge his son harshly for his resentful words.
But letting go of the rivalry, the comparisons, the inevitable sense of inferiority or superiority and consequent loneliness takes more than will power. And worst of all, a dreaded "hard-heartedness" is the true danger. God's love might be there for me, but I can't take it in. Nothing can break into the old ugly armor I've grown all around me.
Out of his own experience Nouwen writes, "we can allow ourselves to be found by God and healed by his love through the concrete and daily practice of trust and gratitude." He calls these actions "disciplines": actions accomplished by regular, conscious choice. "I can choose to be grateful and to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly."
Because my Father is always there, declaring "You are with me always, and all I have is yours," both the rebel and the hero in me need never stray far before turning their hearts back toward home.
Lord, your love is always for all your sons and daughters. We are never ever left alone. Thank you.