“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and seldom tried.” ~GK Chesterton
The second part of the Prodigal Son shows us just how hard it is to advance on the spiritual path. Here is the elder brother who has spent his time working for his father on the farm. He is coming home from an exhausting day ploughing. And as he gets closer to home he hears the music, and smells the fatted calf cooking. What’s going on?
He catches one of the workers outside the hall and is told that his brother has come home and your father has thrown a huge party. What the hell?
Pretty soon his father comes out looking for him. The elder son goes up to him and give him a piece of his mind. And the son is entirely justified. This spendthrift should not be welcomed home, at least until he proves himself. Even then there should be some kind of restitution. But for the father love overwhelms justice. This is a pretty crazy family which allows this sin to go unpunished.
Once we become a Christian (which is easy), we learn that we are to be transformed. The elder brother must let go of his resentments against his sibling because the resentments keep him outside the feast.
Jesus brilliantly leaves the end of the parable open. The elder brother has three options. First, he can keep his pride and sense of justice and not go into the feast; he will in the barn and stew, or he may leave the farm altogether. On the other hand he can go into the feast without forgiving his
brother. In that case he may choke on the fatted calf given All the fury still trapped inside him, may find him choking on the fatted calf. Finally he can come to his senses and rejoice as his father asks him, because hisa brother who was lost has been found and the family is united again.
Twelve Step programs speak of the danger of living in our resentments. Resentment will spoil the rest of our life, just as it would spoil the elder brother’s enjoyment of the feast. Working on our resentments is a key part of our spiritual work. If we can drop them our life will be much better. But such work is hard. It goes against our very grain.
Robert Farrer Capon, a popular Christian writer, writes, “Before there is exclusion there is inclusion.” The elder brother is asked into the feast. We are all invited to the banquet. He excludes himself because of his righteousness. We do the same, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.