I want . . . I want . . . I wait . . . .

Tom Bartolomeo
4th Sunday Lent C 2013
Joshua 5; 9a, 10-12; Psalm 34;
2 Corinthians 5, 17-21; Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32
Reproduced with Permission

We are not told the end of the "Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Generous Father" - the story of the angry older son in the Gospel of Luke, the parable which God left for us to solve. (Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32). Two very different sons, what is a father to do? Speaking of raising children why is it - that when they are very young they incessantly ask, "Why?", and then when they begin to think for themselves they repeatedly say, "I want." (You can see this any day in a supermarket aisle, "I said, 'No'. "Put it back!" and on and on down one aisle after another, "I want . . . I want . . . until mother and child leave the store).

Now keep in mind Jesus earlier had told us that he would only teach us in parables:

The disciples . . . asked him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" He answered, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. . . . The reason I speak to them in parables is that 'seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.'

With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:

'You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn - and I would heal them.' (Matthew 13, 10-15).

We have a saying for this, "plausible deniability", an abdication of personal responsibility. "No, no, don't tell me. Then I would be responsible." Well, you are responsible - playing God for the fool.

The "secrets of the kingdom of heaven" are not always pleasant in this world. Why would the father of the prodical son give him half his inheritance? Had he denied him his inheritance what would that have gained. He was one foot out the door to begin with. Whatever the consequence, leaving his father's house would be his and only his responsibility to bear. Is God going to force us to do what is right? Why would we then ever trust him? No one gains heaven against his will - however high a cost, we think, we must pay. Hopefully, we learned those lessons when we were young, learned them 'the hard way', learned that the truth can be painful but beneficial, "unless" as Jesus said, we refuse to "understand with the heart and turn"- so God can heal us.

Then there is the older son. What did he want? He could, obviously, have also asked his father for his share of the inheritance as did his younger brother. Why not? Was he more interested in holding onto and building up his father's wealth as his heir and mock his younger brother who "swallowed up your property with prostitutes". "Swallowed up", strong words! I don't think it mattered to him how his brother lost his wealth. Too bad he had not heard his brother's heart-felt confession to his father. The matter of the "fattened calf" and having a party with his "friends" was a rather peevish excuse for his anger. Did he really think his father was rewarding his wayward son? He knew him better than that. He knew without his father telling him, "My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours." What more could a father say to his son? It would take the angry son awhile to understand, should he ever gets over his self-righteousness (which was aimed at the Pharisees and scribes in the gospel who "complain[ed] 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them"). The Pharisees and the father's older son just couldn't conceive that sinners can repent. It would require their own repentance to understand.

How the parable ends for the older son we do not know. We have good reason to believe that the repentant younger son did return to work on his father's estate alongside his older brother and confess his sinfulness to his older brother as well. I think the father is counting on that outcome and the conversion of his older son besides. The father waits.