By Allison Gingras
What I know about the Prodigal Son
If you asked me just five years ago, “Are you familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son?” I would have quickly responded, “Absolutely, he was the bratty kid who asked for his inheritance and squandered it all on really poor choices.”
After the money’s gone, he suddenly realizes the animals in his care were being fed more food than he, which leads him to make the decision to return home and beg his father to allow him back into his care, even if it is as a servant. The Father spots the prodigal son while he is still “a long way off,” indicating he must be peering out that window every day hoping to see his son returning. What volumes that singular action speaks.
However, that is only half the story. Not many people (including yours truly) are aware there is another very poignant side to this parable, the side that more than likely we can most relate to.
What? Where did the Prodigal Brother come from?
The prodigal son has an older, clearly responsible and obedient, brother. Scholars tell us this brother represents the Pharisees, to whom Jesus is first sharing this parable. Sometimes, I am a Pharisee, wanting to be recognized for all the good I am doing, and having my own prodigal ways overlooked (especially by God, the Father).
The good news, for the most part, is that I am a recovering Pharisee. When I returned to practicing the Catholic faith in 2006, I quickly became an expert at all the Church rules. So proud of my ongoing conversion, I became the self-appointed “Catholic police.”
I was very concerned about who was not following the rules according to my judgmental eye. The “holier” I felt I was growing in my own life, the more self-righteous I became. Entering the church for Mass, I would quickly find my seat and kneel until Mass began — head bowed but eyes darting around to see who was there and mind filled with anything but prayer.
Now, I am all for kneeling in prayer until Mass begins; it is good to quiet our hearts and minds to prepare for receiving Jesus. However, truth be told, my stance was all for show, and the sideward glances to see who might be watching me be so pious, completely gave my motives away! The worse offense came during Holy Communion. After returning to my seat, I would stare down each and every person in line, along with a running commentary in my head, duly noting everything from their attire to whether they were properly disposed (or lack thereof) to even receive Jesus in the Eucharist.
An internal battle with envy
My envy was strong with some fellow parishioners who seemed to have all the luck in the world, but in my (not so humble opinion) didn’t deserve any of it. Like the prodigal’s brother, it seemed unfair that they could be immoral, unkind, and reckless, yet still be lavished in blessings.
This went on for a few months until I read, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2) Wow, that stopped me in my tracks, convicted me on the spot, and honestly cured me of my Pharisee-type behavior.
Time to love and stop brooding in the field
I, like the other brother brooding in the field, thought my only way to God’s heart was in being perfect. It made me crazy that people who seemed to not be trying as hard were receiving the same reward. Yet, his father meets him where he is and pleads with him to come inside and rejoice with the lost being found, the sinner being forgiven—mercy being shown.
The Father reminds and reassures the brother, and us, that all he has is still rightfully his (and ours), and his desire to show mercy and love to the offender does not take away from their relationship or inheritance. In fact, instead of being jealous, we should be begging he bestow the same loving, mercy on each of us!
So, would you go into the house
Interestingly, the parable ends unresolved; we never do know if the other brother enters the house. We are left to ponder the question: Will we enter the Father’s house because we were able to accept how He chooses to show mercy, or will we refuse and remain out in the cold?
Allison Gingras is the founder of ReconciledToYou.com – where she shares her Catholic Faith and Relationship with Jesus with laughter and honesty in the everyday, ordinary of life! Allison hosts A Seeking Heart with Allison Gingras recorded on FB Live Mondays 12:30 pm et; and distributed through Breadbox Media. Her newest project is the Stay Connected Journals for Catholic Women and will be published with Gracewatch.Media in Fall, 2018. Allison is a WINE Specialist overseeing and facilitating the online aspect of the Between the WINES Book Clubs. SUMMER 2018 Between the WINES BOOK CLUB: The Friendship Project — launching July 9th — purchase your Friendship Project Book / Journal Bundle now!
This is lovely Allison!
I don’t remember when or who it was that I first heard preach about the other brother, but it was life changing. We are either brother at some point in our lives and strangely enough it felt better to me to be compared to the prodigal son than the “brother.” Praise God for our Merciful Father, the most important character in the story!
Thank you Angie!! That means a lot coming from you! Amen is right Karen!! And I agree, I would rather be the humble, contrite prodigal, than the brooding, envious brother!! Yikes!!
Amen sister. Love it…
Wow! I loved this post. I am in awe of your honesty and candid reveal of your heart before and after. Beautiful. I, too, as Angie mentioned above, heard a wonderful sermon once about how we are each at some time one brother or the other. It is hard for us sometimes to see the ‘fairness’ of the ‘rain falling upon the good and the evil’ I don’t think I’ll ever capably understand Our Father’s mercy and love, but I am so glad He is as He is – whether I get it or not. 🙂 I stand convicted as well – many times lol – but Our beautiful Abba keeps His arms open for me to return. Every time. Thank you for this lovely and thoughtful post.
OH that is one of my favorite Scripture passages Mary Ellen, perfect for this scenario.
What a beautiful reflection you have offered on my post – better said than mine, just like Angie lol. I Love the Vineyard, how we can each teach one another!! God is sooo good!
I learned more about the Prodigal Son, his brother, father and onlookers, from Henri Nouwen’s book, Return of the Prodigal Son. It’s excellent. It uses Rembrandt’s picture of the prodigal son to explain each character and how we can be each character at different times in our journey. I totally recommend this book. It’s an easy read with a great deal to consider.
I love what you wrote Allison. It’s always interesting to view your take on things. I too like to look around. I hope I am not judging, but I am definitely curious and sometimes judgey. Thanks for being honest and sharing.
That book Bernadette, is on my shelf!! OK, time to pull it off and read it!! I am always looking for good Adoration reading, since I tend to get very easily distracted in there! Thank you for your kind words about my post. The Holy Spirit is the best ideas man — ha ha ha!! Blessings!!
Thank you, Allison, for this insight. I find myself to be in this scenario. You have given me the opportunity to not judge and not be critical.
Ruth, you are so very welcome. I have to say, the most amazing part of posting this, and all these awesome #WINEfriends for responding, have been the relief that I AM not the only one!!
There is a certain responsibility that the older son wields. Maybe the more mature we become in our faith journey, the more humility, God requires of us. More dying of self. I think of Mother Teresa, how she wanted Jesus’ attention, but sacrificed God’s loving gaze for someone else’s sake. Just my take on the story.
Susan, that is so thought-provoking.
This makes me think of the comment I made on Facebook about the Brother/Father relationship. This is in addition to what you said, not a rebuttal lol to be clear. And also before I post it, I want to clarify by saying the Prodigal Story is a parable, meant to teach, at Jesus meets us where we are too. I love that about him!
So here is an additional insight I had:
Here is the insider view that makes that scene so spectacular. First, the King came OUT of the Castle to meet the son where he was. What King doesn’t call for his subjects?? But comes to them!! Wow, right. Second… It is a matter of perspective on the son’s part. The Father’s response – I have never withheld a single thing from you. He has always been lavishing upon the brother all he had — because the Father saw the strength and good in his son that did not require the extra effort the other one did lol. It is actually a great compliment when are parents can relax at the person we are – as a mom with the struggles I have with a few of my babes, I am so grateful for the one holding his own.
Thanks for this. I have been in this position. “The Catholic Police!”.
ha… i am glad that resonated with you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Wow, I love this story. I always wonder what the older son had done afterwards. This parable always leaves a lot to meditate on.
I love your honesty about when you came back to the faith. I think we all (or at least me) had gone through that as well. In my case, I was always concerned how people perceived me. It takes a lot of dying to self (and the litany of humility) to help get my mind straight!
Great article and thank you so much for sharing it with us.
Ha. Funny you mentioned the Litany of Humility, I have been given that as a PENANCE more often I care to admit. ha ha. Thanks. for sharing your thoughts Kalley!!
I am not Catholic, but a Protestant Christian and found this a wonderful eye-opening read while researching the Prodigal’s brother. I think we can all relate. And, just so you know, we have our Protestant Police as well, and I’ve been one. Thanks again for your insight.
I am so glad you found this piece Janice. AND even gladder you left your comments. Amen, amen – we are more alike than different!! God’s many blessings!!
I think the prodigal son’s brother had a reason to feel bad and not go into the party. How was he supposed to know he would be welcome? Everyone seems to overlook the fact that he wasn’t even invited. He was left out in the field, working away, until he was done and comes home to find a huge party in full swing. His father was so excited to see the younger son that he didn’t even remember his older son. He sent servants for rings and robes and fat calves, why didn’t he send a servant to get the older brother?
Parables are such a beautiful gift from Jesus, aren’t they? How we can delve so deep, our hearts continually opened to the many levels of the Word of God, to teach and guide us. Thank you for your insightful response. One of my favorite commentaries on this passage of Scripture, speaks of how we never see how the brother responses to the Father coming out and inviting him in. This is a moment for us, to consider the many aspects of this parable and decide what we would do. Regardless of the circumstances, we are still called to forgive, and rejoice in the return of a prodigal and to be careful not to become one ourselves. You’ve given me lots to contemplate this Sunday, thank you!
I loved reading your perspective, which I found while looking for commentary on the Prodigal Son’s older brother. When I returned to my (Protestant) faith, I told God I didn’t want to be a Christian if I were going to be one of those judgmental ones. He showed me a documentary on Rosa Parks where there is a scene in which she stood hand in hand with the other ladies in her jail cell, praying WITH them. I thought, ok if it can be like that…. Fast forward several years and I find myself fighting the judgies inside of me again. But, there is hope! While reading the comments on here, I was reminded that I have a book on the Prodigal Son on my Kindle, lol! Not the same one mentioned above, but I may look into that one, too. Thank you for posting your honest thoughts!
Denise, I appreciate your leaving such a thoughtful comment (I apologize for the delay in acknowledging it, this message went to spam in a rarely used email – talk about the enemy trying to interfere with good). Judging is hard, I know I struggled with that big-time until I read Luke’s Gospel about how I WILL be judged in the same way I judged others. OUCH lol!! Which the Holy Spirit kindly showed me right after I returned to the faith and found myself feeling all holier than thou because I’d say YES to Jesus!! Hope you tried the aforementioned book, it is a good one! Blessings!!