By NEMS Daily Journal
Almost every person who attends church regularly has seen or perhaps been the object of a reaction from some of the obvious core group when they look at different or new faces.
It’s as if they’re asking, “Who are all these people, and what are they doing in my church?” or worse, “These poeple are in my pew!”
The certainty of ownership, the attiude of primacy in the context of religious relationships happens in every kind of congregation. Those who are faithful, punctual, active and generous are inarguably doing the right thing. But sometimes the mindset changes from one of servant leadership to headmaster.
The Rev. Charlotte Frantz, a longtime senior minister in the United Church of Christ, told her Duluth, Minn., congregation that an important other side of the Parable of the Prodigal Son is about the elder son – the one who was a good son and never left to sow his wild oats, only to come crawling back after having eaten with the pigs.
She wrote, “Jesus lived 2,000 years before Alfred Adler described the impact of birth order on siblings, but Jesus got it right. A man had two sons: the older one conscientious, responsible and high achieving; the younger, a charmer who is unafraid to try his luck. The story Jesus told is a classic story of human behavior.
“Richard Swanson, professor of religious classics at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was an oldest child – and a keen observer of his younger siblings. As he reads this story, he says, ‘Not so fast. This is a younger brother Jesus is talking about.’”
Frantz, citing Swanson, suggested people who have parented children “may have observed that youngest children learn to play their parents for all they are worth. They know how to pick the right words; how to hold just the right expression; how to get what they want and need.”
Maybe, she said, the younger son wasn’t all that repentant – maybe he was just smart.
So the younger son goes home, and his father comes running down the road to meet him.
Frantz said the story is clearer in its literary context: “The story is actually the third of three parables; the two others are very short. The Pharisees and scribes are complaining about the company Jesus keeps. In response, Jesus asks them a question: If they had 100 sheep, and lost one, would they not leave the 99 in order to search for the one who was lost? And then Jesus tells the story of a woman who has lost a coin. She lights a lamp and diligently sweeps her house and searches carefully until she finds it. And then there is this story – intended, most scholars would say, to be parallel to the two previous stories.
“If the first story is about a shepherd who seeks a lost sheep; and the second is about a woman who seeks a lost coin; is not this story about a father who seeks a lost son?
“I recently noticed this: The father in this story does not search for the younger son; he waits for him and welcomes him home.
“But, when the older son disappears, the father searches for him. I began to suspect that the point of this story may be less about the younger son, who returns on his own, but more about the father’s seeking the older son.”
Frantz asked, “What if this story is about God’s seeking those who have been faithful all along? … Does it surprise you that such persons need to have God seeking them?”
Frantz suggested if “we” are the elder son “there is good news news in this story for us. God comes looking for us.
“I can think of no better definition of reconciliation in our world than this picture of younger siblings coming home and older siblings giving up a sense of entitlement and privilege in order to be part of the party.”
God calls us to be reconciled to each other – without acting as if our space in the kingdom is lost as someone else is welcomed.