The brother’s resentment.

Homily 533 – 35 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
February 12, 2023
Epistle:  (135) 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Gospel:  (79) Luke 15:11-32

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

There is a lot to this parable.  There are three main characters – the first two are obvious.  The father, and the prodigal.

The third main character is maybe not so obvious – the brother.  The Father spends his time looking for his prodigal son.  Meanwhile, the brother works, is faithful, does what is needed.

We sometimes may discount the brother’s presence in the parable, but we shouldn’t.  Because the brother is included, the parable is universal.  We can probably make the case that we’ve all had prodigal moments, for sure.

But very few of us born and raised in the Church, of whatever tradition, would say we completely abandoned the Church and lived a life of debauchery and moral depravity.

For me, I certainly had a period when I didn’t go to church, and had little regard to the moral teaching of Christ.  But during that time, even though I might have not looked or behaved like a Christian, I still believed in Christ – I never lost faith in Christ, even when I lost faith in the organization called “Church”.

So, while living without a moral compass is sinful, for sure, I’m not ready to call it “prodigal.”

But – how does the brother fit into this mix?

He’s the one who is faithful.  He’s the one who is loyal.  Like many of us.

And he reminds us that like his father, we too should long for the return of our brother, our family member.  But instead, the brother is resentful when the prodigal returns, refusing to celebrate.  He pouts, because the prodigal is getting the attention.

And what did the prodigal do to deserve the attention?  Nothing!  What did the brother do to deserve the attention?  Everything!

But – and this is critically important – love is never deserved.  Let me repeat that – Love is never deserved.

Love is not transactional – it is not based on what we do for one another.  If you do this, I’ll love you.  If you do that, I’ll not love you.

That may be the most significant difference between the fallen world in which we live, and the Kingdom of God to which we find our home.

Loving based on the actions of another human – whether family, or friend, or stranger – loving based on that isn’t love at all.  It is the height of pride.  It is the worship of ego.

It is saying, “what have you done for me?”  It is “I” focused – “me” focused.

And, most of all, it is deadly.

The Father longs for the return of his prodigal not because of what the prodigal does, but because of who the prodigal is.

The prodigal may leave the home, leave the faith, but can never leave the family.

And love exists – truly exists – in the pure unconditional, untransactional form.  Not what have you done for me, but who are you in relationship to me.

The risk – the danger – that those of us who remain faithful to our family, faithful to our faith tradition and morality, the risk we experience is resentment.  Our fallen logic tells us that we deserve better – we deserve more.

We are the laborers that toiled in the vineyard all day, and we watch those who came at the last hour receive the same wages as we receive.

In the economy of God – economy literally means the running of the household – in God’s economy, our wages are never based on what we do, for nothing we do is sufficient to deserve wages.

Remember last week – the Pharisee thanks God for the perceived reward, while the publican begs for mercy.

But both are loved.

In God’s economy, it isn’t wealth that we obtain, nor power, nor status, nor celebrity.  In God’s economy, we obtain love.  That love which is salvation for us.

Remember – salvation isn’t escape.  Salvation isn’t dodging punishment or condemnation.

Salvation is obtaining life.  Salvation is obtaining humanity.  Salvation is the only thing worth obtaining, because not obtaining salvation means we remain where we are – dead in our trespasses and sin, disconnected to the source of life.

In the brother, we see that the reward worth having isn’t necessarily the reward we pursue.  We pursue congratulations, fame, wealth – but those aren’t the rewards worth having.

Yesterday, the epistle reading was from St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy, and said in part:  For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.  None of those are rewards worth having.

So before we go and get all self-confident and thinking we are better because of our faithfulness, let’s recall the reward we seek.  Before we begin praying like the Pharisee, let’s recall that it isn’t our faithfulness but our relationship that offers us salvation, and healing.

And, in any event – regardless of what we do and who we become – we are loved unconditionally by God.

So when the prodigal returns, we too can rejoice and give thanks.  Because while we didn’t experience the fleshly pleasures of the prodigal, neither did we experience the hunger and pain and loneliness.

Rather, we can all experience the love and joy of the relationship with our Father and Creator.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.