“Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” —Luke 15:31-32
When I worked as a hospital chaplain on an in-patient drug and alcohol rehab floor, I was meeting with a patient once who was full of shame and self-reproach for all the terrible things he had done when he was abusing alcohol. His remorse was genuine and his hurt deep, but he couldn’t believe in God’s forgiveness of him. My job as a chaplain wasn’t to be his therapist, move him to make amends as part of the twelve-step program, or chart a path forward. My job was simply to try to be the voice of God for him. That’s when I thought of the parable of the Prodigal Son.
I asked him if he knew the story. He said it sounded familiar, but he wasn’t sure, so I summarized it. As I related the story from memory, I was surprised by how gripping it was to tell out loud to an unfamiliar audience. By the time I got to the part about the father welcoming back the wayward son, my patient was sobbing. “I’m the younger brother,” he said. “That’s me.” From then on, when I met with patients on that floor, if the occasion seemed right, I would re-tell that story. Every single patient cried.
I had always related to the older brother in the story. Like him, I felt some lingering resentment that God welcomed back someone who didn’t deserve it. But in telling the story to self-identified younger brothers who cried with amazement that God would still welcome them back, I felt nothing but gratitude to have the God we do.
For reflection: Which brother do you most relate to? Why? Who in your life do you identify as the other brother? Can you imagine what it is like to be them and hear the father’s words in the story?
To Pray: Gracious God, may I be welcoming and forgiving to any younger brothers in my life. May I always know that you stand ready to welcome me home when I leave.