In the parable of the lost son(s), Jesus tells of a son that must go out and experience the world, forsaking his father and wasting his inheritance. After the young man hits rock bottom, he comes back home humiliated and hoping to work in the stable as one of his father’s workers. But to our surprise, the father rushes out to greet his son and throws a great big party for him. We have come to call this young man the prodigal son and there is far too much nuance to go into here.
For many Christians, the story ends there. Not because there isn’t more to the parable, but it makes it easier for many to talk about the foolishness and arrogance of the first son and the wise generosity of the father. Our own arrogance blinds us to the second son.
As Jesus continues, he speaks of the other son, the older, who is jealous of his father’s generosity. In giving the younger son his inheritance early, everything left of the estate is his. The party his father throws for his brother comes from his inheritance. In anger, the elder son leaves what is essentially his own party, himself betraying his father. The parable ends with the father disrespected, now by the elder son, and going out to convince him to rejoin the party.
In The Prodigal God, Tim Keller uses this parable to describe two different types of people with two different ways of engaging the world, each represented by the two brothers. One type needs to experience the world, make mistakes, and seek forgiveness. The other needs to stay behind, work hard, only to be disappointed when GOD treats both kinds equally. Several parables sound this same theme of equality, most notably the parable of the workers that are all paid the same, regardless of how long they were in the field.
These two brothers make a great example for how we might see one another. There are some that need to race ahead while others hold back; some splurge while others skimp; some struggle with seeking forgiveness and others that struggle with witnessing it. And sometimes we are both at the same time.
This parable, about the nature of the two sons who struggle with how they learn and experience relationship and how they deal with a radical understanding of forgiveness, fairness, and community; it came to me as I reflected on the idea of change. This rich, multi-layered story has many avenues to explore, and I encourage you to read or watch the video of The Prodigal God to explore several of them. But I am focused on this one idea of change.
We often describe change as an alteration of current existence or something that is too disruptive to the existential flow of society. It is treated as something to fear and made into an Unknown vs. Known dual. But what if we recognize not the nature of change, but the nature of our relationship to it? What if we cast ourselves as one of these two brothers and recognize which of us needs to experience something to understand it and which of us need to recognize that hard work into one system is not the peak of existence, but simply its purpose?
I have many thoughts on change, which I’ll discuss here for a while. But I’ll leave you with a simple question: am I the one who is always madly and hopelessly in love with change or the one that needs to realize that to love at all, one must learn to change?