I always identify with the wrong person in the stories in the Bible. I’m more like Simon the Pharisee than the woman washing Jesus’ feet. More like the servants who are hired first and get the same amount as the ones who came in at the end. More like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. He’s definitely not the hero of the story and not the person I want to be most like. But the sobering truth is that we are very similar; he must have been an Ice Queen too.
I think it’s interesting that the story of the Prodigal Son doesn’t end after the son returns home. Jesus includes this disturbing, and incredibly convicting, part about the older brother. In the story, the older brother is angry that his younger brother is celebrated. He refuses to participate in the celebration out of principle. Essentially he refuses to forgive and restore his brother to a place of honor. He has defined his brother and his relationship with his brother by the sin of the brother who took the money and ran. He resents his brother when he says to his father, “I never got a big party with my friends.” He compares his own actions to the actions of his brother and determines that he is better. He begrudges the father his generosity and puts the spotlight on himself by refusing to attend the party. He was an important figure at he party as the oldest son, and surely everyone noticed that he wasn’t there. Was his absence an attempt to manipulate the father?
This is what I do as an Ice Queen. Sometimes it is hard for me to celebrate good things that happen to others when I know their past and their sin. I let my precious principles get in the way, and I make my rules and routines more important than the people in my life. Forgiveness is also difficult for the Ice Queen because it means having compassion for another person and possibly even admitting that she was wrong. To forgive often means that I have to acknowledge that I was hurt, and according to the Ice Queen, only the weak get hurt. Instead of restoration, I choose revenge or resentment. It’s as if I’m the older brother saying, “I was here and obedient all along. Why don’t I get what they have? You’ve never blessed me like that!” I compare and keep score. It all works well when I come out ahead, but when I don’t think it’s fair, I get angry at God. When God doesn’t work the way I think he should, I begrudge his generosity. I stand in the place of the judge. I throw my own pity party complaining that I don’t have his attention. I accuse him of not loving and not caring.
That’s when I realize that I am the right person in the story. The older brother who never left home and the lost son who came back both distanced themselves from the father. Neither son had a right view of the father. We see the repentance of the prodigal son. But we never see the repentance of the older brother. Did he ever repent? Or did he live in the father’s house outwardly obedient yet inwardly full of anger and resentment? But I think if the older brother ever realized how lost he was the father would have celebrated all over again. So which person will I choose to be: the wrong person or the right person? The unrepentant older brother full of pride and self-righteousness or the wayward son who admitted he was ruined and returned to the father, not as a son, but a servant. Who will you choose to be?