I attended a gathering of a faith community yesterday during which we explored the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Having grown up in the church, this is a story that I know well. The emphasis is normally on the response of the father in the story to the return of the prodigal and the complete forgiveness, acceptance, and joy that is expressed at his homecoming.
There are ways that I can relate to the prodigal son, and I am humbled and grateful anew every time I hear the story at the welcoming response of the father. There is not a single “I told you so,” not a single lecture, no accusations or reminders of mistakes, just an open-hearted and open-armed welcome filled with love and joy.
But the character I have always most related to in the story is the older brother. I have an overly wide streak of the judgmental, self-righteous, play-by-the-rules older brother who believes that acceptance and reward should be based solely on what one earns. I work hard at obeying all of the rules trying to be deserving enough, and it riles me when I see someone who did as they pleased be treated with as much or more reward. I’m not a bit proud of this part of myself, but I know it’s there.
As we discussed the story and our reactions to it yesterday, one member of the community pointed out that by all logic the older son was right. But the father reacts with pure grace, setting aside any question of deserving to react in love. The older son, though right when the logic of deserving is applied, is still reacting with n0n-grace. He went on to say that this reaction of non-grace is human nature, but the reaction of grace is what the Kingdom of God is all about.
It makes me wonder whether that’s what our spiritual journey is all about—this growth from reacting toward others out of non-grace to reacting toward others out of grace.
This may not sound like all that radical idea, but it’s significant for me. So much of my childhood faith tradition was so focused on religion being all about escaping hell that any other conceptualization of the point of a life of faith still seems a bit daring. I’m committed to finding a way to live into a faith that is bigger than that, though. I want something that is in closer integrity to my experience of life and of the divine, and this particular insight felt like one more small step on my journey to finding a faith that I can honestly call my own.
The idea of being transformed into someone who is always aiming toward expressing grace instead of my usual habit on non-grace is something I could get on board with. That’s the kind of transformation that would be worth the journey through the chrysalis.