SINCE childhood I've loved Jesus' parable of the prodigal son.1 Its message of the father's unconditional love for his wayward child is as comforting now as it was then. How reassuring to be reminded of God's tender care for His children! It was only recently, however, that I saw another healing in the story--the healing of the elder son. Putting yourself in the place of the prodigal makes it easy to understand and appreciate the father's forgiveness and his joy at the return of his repentant son. The prodigal had learned some valuable lessons and, with newfound humility, had come home. His father's warm greeting seemed natural and right.
For years, the story seemed to me to include a nagging inequity. What about the elder son--the ``good'' one? He certainly appeared justified in his complaint. ``And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.''2
When a friend remarked accusingly one day that I was like the elder son, I was prompted to look more closely at the story. Wasn't the elder son the better of the two--moral, hard-working, loyal? He may have overreacted a bit about the party thrown for his brother, but he did have a point. Or did he?
Suddenly I saw that the elder brother, too, had lessons to learn. Had he expected that self-centered goodness would bring about financial gain? Was he self-satisfied in the conviction of his own personal goodness, while holding on to a critical, self-righteous view of his brother? He obviously thought his brother was less deserving of their father's love and its expression.
A better understanding of the parable certainly required a spiritual vantage point, required more than even a human sense of justice provides. Reasoning from the standpoint of God's allness and man's completeness as His likeness, we're able to glimpse something of His impartial provision for all. Yes, human experience includes much inequity. Poverty is widespread. But in absolute truth, in the spiritual reality of being, God, infinite Spirit, continuously provides all good to all of His children. And a perception of this truth can have a healing impact on inequities. It can show us that there need be no fear of lack, no envy of another's good.
Learning from the Biblical example, I thought of my own temptation to be envious, or even to think myself more deserving of good than another. Hadn't I occasionally looked at someone else's mistakes and mentally labeled him or her unworthy of love, happiness, or other good?
Self-righteousness. This was the challenge of the elder son. Although it may have been more subtle, it was no less a sin than the gluttony of the prodigal. But the healing message came in the father's loving rebuke, ``Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.''3
The love expressed to one son in no way diminished the love available to the other. The fact of God's unfailing love, illustrated in the parable, had to be applied in my own experience and realized for the benefit of everyone. Each of God's children is innately worthy of His love, the object of His pure affection. ``Love is impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals,''4 writes Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, referring to God as Love.
Each of us has lessons to learn. And, as it was for the sons in the parable, the learning is always individual. Assured of the unconditional love of our Father-Mother God, we can rejoice in our own victories over sin and in the triumphs of our brothers and sisters. God has love enough for us all!
1See Luke 15:11-32. 2Luke 15:29. 3Luke 15:31. 4Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 13. You can find more articles like this one in the Christian Science Sentinel, a weekly magazine. DAILY BIBLE VERSE: Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12:6,7