by S M Chen
by S M Chen
submitted June 18, 2014
(based on Luke 15:11-32; Luke 10:25-37)
Of the numerous parables of Christ, the one that I have found most profound and moving is that of the Prodigal Son.
When I was a rebellious teenager, and having difficulty interacting with my parents, particularly my father, I related most to the prodigal son. At another point in my life, when I was hypercritical of a brother who went through his own phase of teenage waywardness, I could identify with the brother of the Prodigal. In both instances, this realization occurred after the fact. Upon the recognition of how truly I exemplified what André Malraux called La Condition Humaine, all I could do was bow my head, go to my knees and hope for grace.
I was blessed to have a father who was very much like the benevolent father depicted in the parable of the Prodigal. In the years since he passed I have realized how fortunate I was.
In pondering the parable, it isn’t difficult to discover how the Prodigal found unmerited favor/grace upon his return home. What is more difficult to understand is the why—and therein lies the beauty of Christ’s revolutionary message of God’s unconditional love for man.
But what about the older brother? His part of the tale is necessary, cautionary, and for our edification. We do not know what happened to the family after the end of the parable. One can only speculate.
Despite the humanly understandable unloving, self-justifying attitude of the Prodigal’s brother, could there yet be hope for him? And, if so, how might it come about?
I looked to another of Christ’s parables to find an answer.
And, when I read that of the Good Samaritan, this came to me.
We are told (Desire of Ages, p. 499) that this parable was based on an actual incident, and that the priest and Levite were among those who heard Christ relate the parable. Were their consciences pricked, and did their hearts burn within them?
What is not divulged is the identity of the traveler.
The setting of the parable of the Prodigal Son is not given, perhaps deliberately so. Regardless, given the comparatively small geographic area of Christ’s ministry, I find it not inconceivable that the traveler from Jerusalem to Jericho could have been the older brother of the Prodigal.
Perhaps the traveler was on business, maybe for his father. It matters not.
After the ordeal of being set upon by bandits, stripped of his possessions and clothing, and left for dead, then ignored by two of the very people (religious leaders, no less) he expected would come to his aid, he was the recipient of grace when a man who was not only a stranger, but despised by the Jews, demonstrated such kindness and generosity as defied reason.
These acts of grace might well have given him a better understanding as to why his father, without hesitation or question, would welcome his younger brother, the Prodigal, home with open arms and heart, and remonstrate with him when he was not only disinclined to rejoice over his brother’s return, but critical of what he considered his father’s unseemly behavior.
A part of me would like to think that, upon arriving home, his wounds largely healed, his heart no less so, the older brother would look upon his father with renewed respect and devotion, and upon his younger brother with compassion and forbearance, for he, too, had been the firsthand recipient of grace.
Perhaps Pierre Teilhard de Chardin put it best: “Someday… we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”