Folly and Pride Unbound

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 — Week of Proper 3, Year One

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 968)

Psalms 38 (morning) // 119:25-48 (evening)

Deuteronomy 4:25-31

2 Corinthians 1:23 – 2:17

Luke 15:1-2, 11-32

Extravagant love. Uncalculating, wanton love. That’s how the father is in this famous story of the prodigal son and the elder brother.

The story is about the father. He has two sons, and they grieve him in two different ways. The more obvious is the younger, who defies traditional paternal respect and demands his inheritance before his father is dead. Then he wastes it all in profligate irresponsibility. He deserves whatever happens to him, doesn’t he.

But before he can get his rehearsed words out of his mouth — words of repentance or self-serving desperation? — the father has declared a feast and restored the son to community and honor.

The elder son keeps score. He believes responsibility is to be rewarded and negligent behavior punished. He won’t stand for this other kind of profligate activity either — this extravagant, uncalculating, wanton love of the father. It’s rewarding bad behavior. Enabling. I’ve been the good son. I’ve been dutiful and responsible. No one ever gave me anything I didn’t earn.

The father’s love is too much for him. He will have nothing of it.

How do you know the difference between enabling and generosity? What’s the difference between injustice and reconciliation?

The story is about the father and the father’s love. It’s pretty easy to tell what the father wants.

He wants the younger son to return. He wants the younger son to give up his indulgent life and return to the fold. He wants the younger son to accept the gift of responsibility, and use his energy creatively within the family. That possibility is worth celebrating.

He wants the elder son to be happy. He wants him to be generous and joyful, ready to forgive and reconcile and rejoice. He wants him to stop keeping score. He invites the son to come enjoy the party.

It’s obvious to see the good news this story offers to everyone whose wheels have fallen off. This is good news to those who have been obviously stupid and self-indulgent.

It is less obvious how good this news is for the elder son. He too can be freed from his bad choices. He can come out of his prison of sullen responsibility. He doesn’t have to keep score. He doesn’t have to hold on to his resentment over the ones who haven’t been doing right.

Both brothers can be freely responsible. Both can celebrate a father’s love together. This father forgives both folly and pride.

Past Posts