Today’s gospel ends with a cliff-hanger. How does the story end? Does the older brother enter the party or not?
The irony of the Gospel is that this is the good brother. The one who obeyed and respected his father, who worked hard for him and who now, is separated from the father’s love. The father is inviting him to celebrate, but he refuses to go it.
Resentment and a lack of forgiveness separate us from the father’s joy!
Resentment creates ingratitude. The older son is so blinded by his anger that he does not recognize the blessing of being with his father. He cannot realize, as the father says; “everything I have is yours.” He thinks that his little brother somehow has taken advantage of the father. He does not realize how much better he had it when his brother was feeding the pigs and starving. The older son complains that “I have worked like a slave for you” but the younger son realizes being a slave of his father would be a blessing – that the slaves are treated well. When we feel like we have been wronged, it is easy to “play the victim”, to forget all the good things of our lives – to focus only on the injustice. Resentment creates ingratitude and part of the path to forgiveness is thanksgiving. We are not hard done by – we are blessed!
Will we recognize our blessings or will we play the victim?
Resentment leads us to judge. The older son accuses his brother of wasting the Father’s inheritance on prostitutes. How does he know this? I guess maybe his brother shared his plans or he heard gossip that arrived on the farm – he may be correct, but ultimately, he was not there. When we hold resentment, we tend to assume the worse. Our imagination works in overdrive and we imagine things that don’t exist– “She thinks she’s so much better than me…they are talking behind my back…they don’t appreciate what I am doing for them…he is lazy…she is dishonest…they hate me.” On occasion, we might be right, but we really don’t know. When we hold on to resentment, we live in misery, but often it is a product of our imagination.
Will we let go of our resentment or cling to imaginary hurts?
Resentment keeps the son out of the party. Resentment could keep us out of the banquet of heaven. Think for a moment of a person who has hurt you, a person of whom you find it difficult to forgive. No matter who they are and no matter what they did to you, one thing is certain. Jesus loves them. God the Father loves them. God wants to save them. We say in the Our Father, “Thy will be done” – this is God’s will. God wants them in heaven. I have heard someone say “I forgive them, but I can’t stand to be around them.” Well, if you want to go to heaven, you better get use to being around them – because you will be around them for all eternity. If you can’t live with them, how will you do so for eternity?
Will we let go of our resentments and enter the father’s joy?
“But, Father, ” some will say to me, “There is a difference. In the parable, the younger son acknowledges his sin, he is repentant, he asks for forgiveness. In my case – this person never said sorry. They never admitted that they did wrong. They keep doing the thing that hurts me. How can I forgive such a person?”
We must look closer at the Gospel. The father sees the son coming back and he runs to meet him. He embraces him before he hears what he is going to say. For all he knows, he is back to ask for more money! The father embraces the sinner before the sinner has a chance to ask forgiveness. As Christians we are called to make the first step towards reconciliation. How many arguments continue for generations in families over very trivial matters because both sides are waiting for the other to apologize, for the other to admit wrong? Let us be the first to admit wrong and to seek reconciliation.
“Be merciful as your father in heaven is merciful.” We are called as Christians to practice mercy because we are sons of the Father. Our Father is merciful. We too must be merciful. He forgives. We must forgive. During this year of mercy, let us make a true effort to forgive those who have hurt us. Let us let go of resentments and cling to God the Father.
What do you think? Did the son let go of his resentment and enter the party? Will we let go of our resentment to share in the father’s joy?