Many people are familiar with Christ Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, found in chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel (see verses 11–32). It’s the story of a young man who asks for his inheritance and receives it, leaves his father and older brother behind, and goes off to live a new, “riotous” life elsewhere. He spends every penny and eventually swallows his pride and decides to ask his father for permission to return as a servant. His father is a kind man who first grants the inheritance and then welcomes his son back with open arms, not as a servant but as a beloved son. And he even throws a “welcome home” party for this son.
As a child learning this parable in the Christian Science Sunday School, I found much to criticize in the father’s behavior. His kindness and magnanimity went against my limited sense of responsibility and fairness. And indeed, the other son complains (rightfully, I felt) that he never got any special treatment, even though he hadn’t left his father’s home, so why should his brother? Jesus has the older son saying, “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.” I was wholeheartedly on the older son’s side.
As a preteen I once even used a similar argument in a dispute with my mother. Most of my friends got a higher allowance than I did, and I felt that was unfair. So, following the older brother’s logic, I complained that I was a better kid than some, yet I got less. My mother was unimpressed. The habits of wealthier neighbors were of no concern to a widow with three children. Wanting to boost my argument, I looked up the story of the prodigal in Luke and found something that startled me. The father responded to the above-quoted complaint of the older son with love: “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” I realized that I had everything I needed, and it never again felt right for me to use that argument.