We are all too familiar with The Parable of the Prodigal Son.
This moral lesson is known by many names: The Lost Son, Running Son, Loving Father, Lovesick Father. Every time a priest, pastor or minister reads Luke 15:11-32, the focus of the sermon is often us, the congregant faithful and metaphorical Prodigal Son.
But why? The parable is about a father and two sons. So, why don’t we ever hear much about the other son? The brother of the Prodigal Son?
My change of heart on this subject came about while watching an interview with Martin Sheen.
At the time, his son, Charlie, star of Two and a Half Men, was in the midst of his now infamous Tiger Blood induced Winning Tour. During this interview, Sheen’s father, Martin, was asked about his sons, and particularly Charlie, to which Martin Sheen humbly replied, “You give the most love to the child who needs it at that time.”
To steal a line from my book Corporation YOU: [His words] pierced my heart with pointed love.
You see, like Charlie — and maybe some of you reading this, when I was a young man, I was lost — but I didn’t know it.
I went to Church every Sunday, read scripture, prayed daily … and hung out in bars, womanized, frequented strip clubs. But hey, God loved me and you couldn’t tell me different — because I could feel his Love.
It was real! It wasn’t some demonic delusion. It was God’s True Love. AGAPE! Even when my life got totally out-of-control, I could feel the constant presence of the Holy Spirit at my side.
In fact, I would say that God had a stronger sense in my life, back then, then He does now that I am fully devoted to His Love.
The temptation to fall back, if you will, doesn’t come from me missing the wine, women and song. It’s quite the opposite. It comes from my urge to recapture those brief intervals of ecstasy of God’s Love that I experienced in my forgiven past.
It was around this time, a time of questioning, a time of confusion, frustration and temptation, that I saw the Martin Sheen interview.
“You give the most love to the child who needs it at that time.”
It wasn’t that God was no longer present in my life. The Holy Spirit never abandoned me. Nor did I ever abandon my faith in the Lord. I was just simply feeling the misplaced emotions of a faithful son, the brother of the Prodigal Son.
I was never angry or jealous, like the brother of the Prodigal Son. However, I have to say the loss I was feeling equated to the anger and jealousy of the brother of the Prodigal Son. However, now, there was a guilt associated with how I felt, because unlike the brother of the Prodigal Son, I could never say “All these years I have slaved for you.” Nor could I say, “Never once [have I] disobeyed any orders of yours”; or “…you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends.”
I had rejoiced with the Father and I ate the fattened calf with Him … but it has been awhile since I was the focus of His celebratory feast.
I now know that the Love I felt when I was wayward was the Love of 10,000 prayers of Loved Ones and the Love-filled call of the Good Shepherd — always searching and never ceasing to find me, a lost sheep in the wilderness. The constant Presence I felt was the tug of His rod and His staff, that never let me go.
So, today, when Luke 15:11-32 is read in Church or Bible Study, and the focus of the sermon is placed on the Prodigal Son, you, like me, may feel that something is personally missing in that interpretation.
What’s missing is that you, like me and thankfully so many of us, are no longer a prodigal child of God. You are now part of The Fold, a common member of His Flock, one of His blessed adoptive children. You are safe and sound — and probably have been for awhile.
So, instead of focusing on the celebration and the return of the one who was lost and is now found, maybe you, like me, need to focus on something else; the words: “You are with me always and all I have is yours.”
Then look around, see all those who now surrounded you, and rejoice! You are now the Brother of the Prodigal Son.
ABOUT THE IMAGE
John August Swanson‘s serigraph of Prodigal Son beautifully illustrates Jesus’ well know parable from Luke 15:11-32. Inspired by the narrative painting of 18th and 19th century Sweden, John portrays the story of the Prodigal Son with five panels, each depicting a stage in the Prodigal’s journey. It explores the themes of greed and regret, sin and redemption, jealousy and acceptance and most importantly, compassionate forgiveness. For, as the father said, “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
My wife often played cello in her church, St. Matthew’s in Burbank, California with John August Swanson playing violin at her side. He was kind enough to give us a gift certificate to purchase a crib for our first son. He also freely gave us Christmas cards with images of his serigraphs, and gave me many of his early prints, also for free, to share with my students.
You can find John’s work at johnaugustswanson.com
James Henry is the author of Corporation YOU: A Business Plan for the Soul, ‘Twas, and the new book series Hail Mary. To contact James or book an interview, please contact Mark of Goldman/McCormick PR at (516) 639-0988 or email@example.com