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Oh, that elder brother!

Updated: Sep 10, 2022

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in.

After the wonderful scene of forgiveness and reconciliation between the father and the younger son, we see the effect on the elder brother. He is not pleased. It seems like he feels that he has not been praised enough for his faithfulness. He did not run off with the money and do all sorts of bad things only to come crawling back when the good times were over. He feels extremely ignored.

His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

Some of us may recognize and understand this feeling. For the most part, we do as we are told (although we may mutter under our breath sometimes). We try to please our parents and guardians; we try to follow the rules. It might actually feel good to lose our temper and scream, "I AM TRYING REALLY HARD HERE! YOU'RE WELCOME!!!" Possibly that would be a little over-dramatic.

Rule-followers do not tend to get as much attention as rule-breakers. So we can understand the elder brother's resentment.

But our eyes must be on the father. He goes out to the elder brother, just as he went out to the younger. He does not let him stew in his anger and resentment. And what does the father say?

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.’”

Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.

Has the elder brother stopped to think about that? Has he enjoyed the company of his father? Does he truly value what it means to be working WITH his father, sharing all that the father has?

It does not seem so.

At times in our lives, when we have made poor choices and regret them, we come crawling back to God asking forgiveness. But a lot of the time, we are doing our part, helping to build the Kingdom—and we are working with God, sharing what God has.

We need to stop and think about that. And enjoy the company of God.

If the elder brother truly values being with his father, truly understands the goodness of his father, he would want his brother to share in that, too.

When we look at all three parables, Found Sheep, Found Coin, Forgiving Father, we see the importance of the whole. All the sheep, all the coins, both brothers with the father. We see the importance of community. Everyone together rejoicing. God wants each of us. God wants us all.

What will the elder brother do? As always, the father lets him make a choice. but the invitation is there:

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