This weekend we get one of the most beloved parables in the entire Bible – the Prodigal Son and the Older Brother. This story has been played out over and over again in other books, movies, songs – if you think about it for a minute or two you can probably hear echoes of this story in scenes throughout your life.
One of the reasons that it is such a comforting story is that it illustrates the extravagant love that God has for each of us. At different times in our lives we can remember when we have been lost and needed finding, or have been overwhelmed by the depth of God’s love for us in our darkest days.
I know there are some full-fledged younger brothers here – y’all have the lively stories. The younger son has gotten the bulk of the attention here – riotous living, squandering an inheritance, falling so low that he considers eating pig pods. He went away to find himself but lost himself along the way. By the time he comes to himself, he is stinky and hungry and lonely. It is a much more dramatic story of hitting rock bottom. So it is the story we usually talk about when we read this in Luke. This is the more straightforward part of the parable.
I suspect that most of us here though may identify more with the Elder Son – I’m not going to ask for a show of hands, but I’ve had this conversation with more people than I can count. Most of the time, we are the older brothers with small side trips into the younger brother’s world. We’ve done what’s asked, we’ve not complained – and where is the reward for that?! Where’s the party for us? We have stories of routine and duty and dang it – we want to be recognized for it!
The Elder brother’s story though is just as dramatic on a careful reading. You see the beginning of the reading? Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and Scribes – they have asked how dare he eat with sinners. In this parable Jesus is clearly putting his sinner friends in the younger brother role and the Pharisees/Scribes in the Elder brother role. And that’s probably we most of us reside also.
You see, there are actually two lost sons in this parable. We know one is found and celebrated, but we are left wondering about the other. Will we stand on our indignation or soften to the love and forgiveness offered freely? This is a very important question for all of us to face right here and right now.
In this diocese, today, this is the crossroad where I believe we are. Our story of the Episcopal Church’s brokenness is no less dramatic than this parable. Both sides could claim to be the Elder brother, but could accuse the other of being the younger squanderer. But both are equally lost to the other no matter which way the story is told. Both are equally loved by the Father; both equally forgiven. It is very hard work – it takes discipline to occupy both roles – but it is true – we know it. We are all sons, daughters, children, older and younger BELOVEDS. God yearns for the family to be at peace. May we each do our part to make it so. Amen.