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Ambushed by joy

by davesandel on March 10th, 2012

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

Luke 15:29-32

The older son said to his father, “All these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders, yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.  But when your son returns after swallowing up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fatted calf.”

         Isn’t it right and good to be obedient, sacrificial, faithful?  Of course it is.  But suddenly, as he is compelled to witness his father’s love for the brother who is none of these things, the good and righteous son is undone.  As Henri Nouwen puts it, “something pernicious has attached itself to the underside of his virtue.”

When gratitude is undermined by complaint, my anguish knows no bounds.  Nouwen again: “I tried so hard, worked so long, did so much, and still I have not received what others get so easily.  Why do people not thank me, not invite me, not play with me, not honor me, while they pay so much attention to those who take life so easily and so casually?”

The more I dwell on this, the worse it gets.  In None of These Diseases, Dr. McMillen writes, “When the waiter serves me Porterhouse steak, it might as well be stale bread and water.  My teeth chew the food, and I swallow it, but the man I hate will not permit me to enjoy the taste.”

I might not be able to forgive my prodigal brother just yet.  But God calls me to his side, reminds me of what I’ve taken too much for granted and now feel like I’ve lost.  He holds me close.  Jesus continues his story:

         His father said to him, “My son.  You are here with me always, and everything I have is yours.  And now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has returned to life; he was lost and has been found.”

Jesus does not tell us what happened next.  Does the older son join the party and begin to relax and enjoy the company of his family?  Can he receive the love his father offers?  Or does he walk away and burn inside for … who knows how long?

Father, free will isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, not when I am enslaved by my anger and self-righteousness and sense of inadequacy.  Why would I “choose” to feel inferior when you tell me I’m your pride and joy?  Ugh.  Enlarge my heart, Lord.  Make me more and more able to receive your love.

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