the elder son

Nouwen characterizes the elder son in the prodigal son story as one who externally did all the things a good son is supposed to do. However, internally, he too had wandered away from his father. He worked hard, did his duty and fulfilled his obligations, but became increasingly unhappy and unfree in the process. Wow. To me, that doesn’t sound too much different from the state of many in the Church today, right?

Remember that Jesus is addressing the Pharisees while sharing this parable; perhaps his intention is that they would see themselves in the form of the elder son. Just as the elder son was angry, resenful, proud and unkind towards his younger brother [read: ‘sinner’] who had received unconditional love and acceptance from the Father, so too the Pharisees were cold and unmerciful towards the ‘sinners’ with whom Jesus spent his time. The elder son had been working so hard to gain the acceptance of his father and had become so self-righteous that he could not engage in the rejoicing of his brother’s return.

The father in the story makes it pefectly clear that both sons are welcomed equally into the fold; he knows them both intimately and loves them unconditionally, just as God loves each of us. The choice for us is whether or not we can make the call to receive that love. Through this story, Jesus is speaking to sinner and Pharisee, to the younger sons and the elder sons out there, to those who have messed up and to those who have been trying so hard to ‘be good’ and are missing the point. And here, according to Nouwen, is the message to be heard.

God is urging me to come home, to enter into his light, and to discover there that, in God, all people are uniquely and completely loved. In the light of God, I can finally see my neighbour as my brother, as one who belongs as much to God as I do.

Not much else to be said there.

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    • Catherine McLaren
    • January 24th, 2007

    Ian
    When did you become such a deep thinker. I do read everyone but sometime I have a hard time getting my head around some of your comments. Keep up the good work/writings.

    I love you very much

    Dad

  1. thanks dad. if you ever see a henri nouwen book at Salem you should pick one up. look for ‘life of the beloved’, one of our favorite books.

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