I am the oldest in my family. Almost anyone who meets me guesses that before they learn the truth! So the gospel story of the Prodigal Son has always been a bit of a challenge for me. I’ve always identified with the older brother and struggled with the justice of the “compassionate father’s” approach to the prodigal younger son.
But in the last couple of years, as I‘ve gotten older, I’ve started to think a bit differently. I expect that this change has also coincided with a change in the dynamics of my family…my father has died, my mother became rather frail and now resides in a nursing home…and the younger siblings have all been pretty involved in the challenges of the new reality of our being middle aged, adult children.
Which brings me back to the gospel story. I have to say that through this life and family journey I’ve been reminded in many ways of the frailty of all of us. Our father died when he shouldn’t have, our mother has in essence given up….we are all seeking to continue to live meaningful lives…and I have made many missteps along the way. It is hard for me to say that…but it is true. As the cliché goes…I know so much less now that I am older than I used to know.
And so, I hear the gospel story a little differently now. I admit I still feel a bit badly for the older son, but I also feel more compassion for the younger son who tried to have an independent life (even if he went about it in a young person’s headstrong way). And I don’t find the father’s welcoming spirit quite so surprising or aggravating anymore. I find it rather comforting. I wonder if that is because as I’ve tried, with my brother and sisters, to navigate the demands of responsibility and caring, I’ve stumbled and lost my way. But time and time again, I’ve been comforted by a quiet voice that encouraged me, reminded me that I was not alone…and reminded me that if I just recognized it, I had the greatest support and guidance possible as I walk this windy road of life.
That is how our God, the compassionate father, has helped me, an older sister, grow in the understanding that I’m not that different from the younger brother in this story….and that I really do rely on God’s love and support each and every day!