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. (Luke 15:29)
Luke 15 is often called The Parable of the Prodigal Son.
But it is in fact The Parable of the Prodigal Sons.
Both of these sons wanted their father dead, and something in both had died.
One was lawless outside the law, one was lawless inside the law.
One was physically distant, the other emotionally, both spiritually distant.
Both misunderstood themselves – one thought he’s no good; the other, he’s too good.
Both had cravings: the younger sought food, dignity, forgiveness, security.
The older yearned for affirmation, intimacy, honesty, friendship.
They both misunderstand the deeper need – reconciliation.
Both forged their own ‘salvation’ – the younger tried to buy back his father’s love through hard work; the older tried to bully his father into rewarding him, his jealousy unadorned.
Neither grasped that the root of their problems in life was not lack of freedom, lack of pleasure, lack of opportunity, lack of choice, but estrangement.
And yet, both were met and astonished and thrown off-guard by a father whose love exceeded all boundaries:
- a love humiliated publicly,
- a love recklessly cast in an irrational arc of forgiveness,
- a love captured by a run–kiss–robe, a slaughtered lamb, a welcome-home party, a contented smile.
Both sons, we realize, haltingly, were offered grace.
One son, the younger, took this gift, and all the angels rejoiced.
But what about the other son – what happened to him? Where does his heart lie?
I, for one, I see the father still outside, seeking those with bitter hearts, stalling even, until all his pleading is done.
And I wonder too, where does our heart lie? Who, indeed, really knows? Amen.
The Rev’d Canon Dr Matthew Anstey is Principal of St Barnabas College. He teaches and researches in Biblical Hebrew, Old Testament studies, theology, and homiletics. He is on the Doctrine Commission of the Anglican Church of Australia. Follow him on Facebook.