Many of us will hear this weekend the old parable of the prodigal son, and we will again wonder about the different reactions of the welcoming father and the resentful older brother.
One way to think about the parable is to view both the welcoming father and the resentful older brother as two parts within each of us--two parts struggling with each other, inside one person.
Will I react like the compassionate one, or will I be hostile like the older brother?
Remember that the prodical younger brother had rejected his father by taking the inheritance and taking off. The younger brother had rejected his father's company, authority, and guidance.The father had every reason to take him to task once he returned. But the father did not care about the insult at all. The father spotted the returning son from afar, ran to him, and showed compassion, joy, hospitality, generosity, and warmth.
But the father could have--with great justification--been as hostile as the older brother. After all, the prodigal had rejected him and thumbed his nose at him and come to a bad end.
Many of us have abundant reasons to be resentful and angry at individuals who have treated us badly--who have "dissed" us. Yet, sometimes, we give people a pass and are gracefully magnanimous. It's a surprise both to us and to the recipients. It is a moment of grace or gift.
The parable points out that each of us faces that choice often: be the compassionate father or the justifiably resentful older brother. It's not so much that the elder brother is wrong. It is more that we can think outside the box of our valid resentments and do something new, daring, and surprising.
(Image in public domain)