Finding Ourselves the Outsider

“My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.”

Luke 15: 31

I know it was last Sunday’s gospel, but the story of the Prodigal Son is just one of those that stick with you!  It is such a rich story and I think every time I hear it in the liturgy, it touches my heart in a different way.  This story and I go way back.  When I was in high school, we had a guest priest at my parish for a weekend and this was the Gospel.  This priest had a gift for preaching and I still remember how he broke open this story and shared with us the deeper significance of the Father asking for a ring, sandals, and a robe for the younger son; namely that these items symbolized the restoration of the son as a son. For me it was the first “Aha moment” with the Scriptures, realizing that they contain much more than meets the eye.  

This year, it is the plight of the older son that has my attention.  Fr. Pablo Gadenz pointed out to me that the elder son never calls his father, Father.  He also doesn’t call the younger son his brother, rather he calls him your son.  He doesn’t have a desire to celebrate with his family, instead complains that he has never been given a young goat to celebrate with his friends.  Lastly, he says, “all these years I have served you . .” which could also be translated, “slaved for you . .”  All of these things lead me to ponder.  Even though the older son has never left his father in a literal sense, it seems that he has departed from his father in a very real way.  He has removed himself from the family and sees himself as “slaving” for his father.  He, too, needs his sonship restored.  It reminds me of the line, “This people’s hearts are far from me.” (cf. Is. 29:15, Matt. 15:8)

The difficult question is, does he realize his plight?  Does he know the reason for his anger, his resentment, his feelings of unjust treatment?  Has he slowly drifted into this sense of isolation and the feeling of not belonging, not being loved?  Does he realize his choices led him there and he has the power to come back into the embrace of the Father? And the even more challenging question is, do I? 

The Father’s love, mercy, and forgiveness are constant.  He goes out to meet both sons.  The younger son, having realized his plight, receives the Father’s mercy and forgiveness and is restored.  We all can find ourselves in the positions of the older and younger sons at different times in life.  But I think the place of the older son can be more challenging.  The renouncing of the Father’s love is more subtle.  The outward behavior seems exemplary.  He has followed all “the rules”.  And yet, he still finds himself an outsider. 

“Every day of this holy season of Lent cries out God’s love to us, and for us.  Are we going to begin to cry out our love back to him?  Or are we going to hem ourselves into a sort of deadly prison, by deadly words . . . Christ says, ‘Do you love me?’ and we do not answer directly like St. Peter did, ‘Yes, I love you, Lord.’ . . . We say ‘Maybe; perhaps I will start loving you a little later.’ This is the season when we hear the nails being put into his hands because he loved us.  He did not say, ‘Maybe, perhaps.’ He just said, “I love you, and the proof is that I am dying for you.’ That is all.”  Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty  

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