So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him. Luke 15:29-30 NKJV
He had me where he wanted me. Stuck. Paralyzed. Bitter. I knew it was him. I knew that I didn't belong here, but I couldn't get out. I looked around me and saw the blessings of answered prayer unfolding all around me. Things I had pleaded with God for the last few months were now in place, and His promise of comfort was finally evident. Yet here I sat wallowing in self-pity and bitterness while God flooded me with answered prayers. Here I was, a blood bought anointed and commissioned Jesus girl, stuck in a dark place not understanding at all how I got here.
I was desperate for someone to talk to....someone who could understand. I tried, but I finally decided that this was something that I was going to have to move past on my own with God. This Jesus girl knows that He's all I need, but let's be honest...sometimes you just need a human to be Jesus in the flesh. Someone to hug you, pray with you, and text to see if you're okay. I had arranged to meet a friend to talk, but it fell through and we didn't meet. Discouragement was creeping over me more and more when she sent a text...the text I needed.
"You are the 'good son' again in the prodigal son." The thought had never occurred to me. She was right.
Those who know me best know that my least favorite story in the Bible is a favorite of most preachers and Christians. I have issues with the story of the Prodigal Son. I know that it is symbolic of all of us who as sinners came to ourselves and returned to God. I get the beautiful iconic picture of the father running with outstretched arms to greet his wayward son who has returned home from his wicked ways. I understand that I too was once a prodigal and that God welcomed me with open arms through faith in Christ. But I know something else about that story...I know the older son.
The eldest in the story is often portrayed by preachers to be ungrateful and jealous. He is seen as the bad guy in the story. But I don't see it that way...maybe because I can identify with him.
His little brother had earlier decided to ask his father for his inheritance. Now as the youngest, he wasn't in line to inherit what the oldest could, yet he did have an inheritance to claim. Rather than waiting for his father to pass, he boldly requested his share of the estate while his father was living. He then took his inheritance and squandered it away in a far country wasting it and finding himself alone, homeless, and poor. He found himself hungry and destitute, living and eating among pigs. Finally one day he comes to himself and remembers what he left back at home and decides to return. His forgiving and loving father welcomes him with open arms. His father gives him new clothes and a ring, commands that the fatted calf be killed in honor of his return, and that a party begin to celebrate the occasion. Such a picture of unconditional love...but wait a minute.
While little brother is getting cleaned up for the party complete with a new outfit and a ring, someone is missing. The fatted calf is prepared and the merriment begins, but no one goes to get the older brother. He is out in the fields working. While his little brother was living life in the far country, possibly even with booze, wild women, and parties, he stayed home. He now had to help out around the house even more, carrying the responsibilities that his brother neglected. He had spent a long day in the fields and came home to sounds of music and dancing. He had to ask a servant about what was happening.
He was angry. Every preacher I've ever heard makes him sound like a horrible creature, but is he? I understand him. I want to call him over at this point of the story and tell him that I understand. He did what was right. He stayed. He followed the rules. He tried to please his father. All this time while the prodigal followed his lusts and selfishness, this man had stayed home. He had been the faithful one. He had been the one who remained at his father's feet. He was the one who continued to press on through each day keeping it as normal as he possibly could. And what did he get in return? Not even an invitation to the party.
He was hurt and angry, refusing to be a part of it. His father came out, and begged him to come in and join them. He couldn't understand why his son did not share in this joy felt by the others. I can almost close my eyes and see them there. It was probably dusk when the son returned in from the fields. I see him in tears, clenched fists against his chest, pleading with his father to understand beneath the candlelit lanterns on the house. There he stands with tears streaming down his face, needing his father to look at him and see what he feels. He tells him that all these years he has served him as best as he could. He has stayed faithful. He has diligently tried not to transgress against his commandments, wanting to honor him with his life and his heart. He has devoted himself to his father. He could have done the things his brother did. He could have made different decisions. But he didn't. His brother got the fatted calf...he never even got the honor or recognition of a gift of a goat. He wasn't ready to join Team Prodigal. Especially not if he only got to be the water boy.
I looked in the mirror and I saw him looking back at me. I have been that one in the shadow of the lantern light looking through the window at the party I wasn't invited to attend. I know what it's like to feel forgotten for your efforts. I know the struggle and frustration that faithfulness brings. I know what it's like to try with everything in your being to follow Him even when you don't want to, but you do it anyway. I know what it's like to feel like you sacrificed your heart and dreams to honor God in ways that don't come easily. I know what it feels like to have had the chance to make bad decisions too, yet you don't because you love your Father too much to do it, even though you aren't led there by choice but by grace. I know what it's like to be angry. To desperately plead with your Father to see...to understand...to notice.
His father answers him. I picture his father laying his hand against his older son's cheek as he looks him in the eye. The father reassures his son that he sees his faithfulness. He knows that this son has sought to remain faithful. He assures him that all that he has belongs to him. His inheritance is yet to come. But for now they must rejoice in the return of the prodigal. So many things could have happened to him and yet, here he is back home again. He needs to be supported and showered in unconditional love by both of them.
I think that the older brother probably got cleaned up and went in to join the party. I see him hugging his brother while his father looks on and smiles. I see an endless line of hugs and well wishes for the prodigal as guests leave. I am sure that the father rejoiced that night as he tucked his wayward son into his old bed in his old room. I think that night as his father made his way to his own room with a heart filled with gratefulness, that he stopped by the room of the older son. I think he looked in as he slept, maybe even going in to adjust his blanket. I think he smiled as he gently rubbed his hair back from his tired face. I see him kissing him on the cheek, and whispering that he loves him and that he has seen it all and is proud of the son he has been. His father has witnessed his demonstration of love, and he will not forget him.