The pre-Lenten readings of the Liturgical cycle are popular parables that encapsulate how we can be good people, ie: what it means to live in Love. We hear these reminders each year, so that in our Lenten journey towards Pascha, we have the tools and the courage to face honestly our deepest self and how we relate to the world.
The story of the prodigal son is perhaps the most beloved and for me, the most resonant. 3 characters that describe the yearnings, failings, and triumphs, of our human life.
As with all good stories, the meaning is alive, dynamic, newly revolutionizing; and with each reading—forever targets your soul—yours, mine, whosever is open to the Spirit. We know the story well. There are 2 siblings and a parent. Where do I fit in this story?
1. There is the younger son, the prodigal. His actions are clearly reprehensible. He acts out of pure self-interest. But his selfishness does not lead to happiness, health and wealth. Once he cuts himself off from the love he lived in, all goodness is squandered and he is left empty, impoverished in every way. This son, however, is lucky in that he recognizes that the darkness he is in, is due to his own actions. He awakens to his careless arrogance and recognizes the value of the relationships he has abused and taken for granted. He has the courage to admit his fault and face his humiliation. He returns to his family.
This is no mean feat. I used to hear the details of his remorse literally—thinking that only starvation compelled him to remembered his dad, as it were (the phone call home from the student traveller when money runs low). But now I see the archetypal tale oulines the destructive nature of selfishness. The ostensible self indulgence in reality damages not only the self but all others involved. Likely we can recognize this experience in our own lives in different ways.
2. The father: hurt, betrayed, humiliated by his son’s behavior. Seeing this son approaching home, he runs out to welcome him. Does he shame, lecture, punish? Wouldn’t that seem just? This character embodies Love and embraces the son’s obvious desire for reconnection. Love welcomes with joy!
When we are together, when we return to love after any degradation, suffering, or evil, the response is not guilt or recrimination; it is celebration: feast, dance, laughter. Do I?
3. The hard working elder brother: angry, resentful, bitter at their father’s reception of his younger brother. How can this be fair? A party for the profligate such as he, the faithful first born, has never had? At home, the eldest fails to appreciate the banquet of love and wealth he enjoys daily. He wounds his family by rejecting the happiness of reunion. In fact, this brother’s reaction places him in the former sin of the younger son. He is self centred, and thus, cuts himself off from joy: hurting himself and those around him. This brother’s self-righteous indignation may sound too familiar: complaints about paying taxes to support welfare, or immigration, jealousy of others without gratitude for what we have. There are endless examples of how we might reflect the elder brother’s attitude.
There are 2 siblings and a parent. Where do I fit in this story? Where can I fit into this story? Divine Love can’t help but share itself, rejoice in existence, revel in every shared breath.
Every time we turn back from selfishness to others, Love reaches out, grabs us by the hand and calls us to dance. Can you hear the music? If our feet are sore—our hearts will dance.