My granddaughters could help Jesus out.
They can perform skits to illustrate the Lord's teaching. These toddlers now do the Parable of the Prodigal Son daily. Last weekend, I saw them do it. These two and-a-half-year-old girls are starting to talk. One of them says sweetly, "Okay!" And the other one says, quietly but firmly, "No!"
Just like the two kids in Jesus' parable.
One is the good kid, and the other one will not obey. The Elder Brother, the Prodigal Son, and my twin granddaughters. Now, I'm sure in future years, as they go through different phases, the roles will switch back and forth. Because that's the way twins are.
In fact, that's the way people are. Sometimes, you and I are the runaway kids. We reject the good things: love, care, integrity, selflessness, relationships, compassion, honesty. And we run off toward destructive places and behaviors. All of us.
Nobody is perfect. For that matter, no one is normal, really. Every human being is flawed, quirky, and broken in some way. Every one of us sometimes is the runaway kid, the Prodigal Son, the twin who says, quietly but firmly, "No!"
But sometimes, instead, we are the Good Kid, the Elder Sibling, the one who says sweetly, "Okay!" Even then, however, we're still flawed and quirky, and it's when we are being the Good Kid that we can become resentful. It's not fair that this other loser gets forgiven! It's not right that the runaway gets off scot-free! It stinks that Sleazy gets a welcome-home party!
I have lived with this parable from Luke's Gospel for decades. And the more I think about it, the more I think we are all BOTH sons. We are the Prodigal Son, all of us. We are the runaway kid, the rebel, the selfish one who says, "No!" AND we are the Elder Son, all of us. We are the Good Kid, the rule-keeper, the church-goer who says, "Okay!" When I hear this parable of Jesus, I'm reminded of what the comic strip Pogo used to say: "We have met the enemy and he is us." We are both of these characters.
And Jesus says that both parts of us are forgiven and loved. The father in the story loves both kids...no ifs, no ands, no buts. No lectures to either of them about shaping up or shipping out. Nothing but forgiveness and love and celebration. That's the heart of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Well, now I hear this story as a grandfather. And I realize one more thing. Not only am I the Prodigal Son. Not only am I the Elder Brother. I'm also supposed to be, yes, the Forgiving Father. You, too.
It's all about forgiveness. Remember that prayer we say every Sunday: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
We're the runaway kids, in need of forgiveness. We're the good kids, who resent easy forgiveness for others. But we have to step into the shoes of the Forgiving Father. Forgive and you will be forgiven, Jesus said. Be like your Father in heaven, he said.
It's not easy. How easy is can it be...to be God? It's not easy, but it's our standard. Forgive. Or, to use non-religious words that may be easier to understand, let it go.
Let it go. Don't let the offense hold you in prison. Let it go and be free. That's the way I understand forgiveness. The only truly free character in this parable is the Forgiving Father.
So be free. Take it easy on yourself. Cut yourself some slack. Forgive yourself.
And take it easy on the people around you. Cut them some slack. Forgive them. Let it go.
That is how you become more like God.
Our Book of Common Prayer has a service for Morning Prayer, and another for Evening Prayer; it takes about 15 minutes to pray through each one. I can give you the extremely condensed version of Morning and Evening Prayer. It helps me put this whole thing into practice. My morning prayer is sometimes just one word: "Whatever!" And my evening prayer is sometimes: "Oh, well."
You and I are the Runaway Kid.
You and I are the Good but Resentful Kid.
Most amazing of all, you and I are the Forgiving Father.
Or if you prefer, the Blessed Mother of Second Chances.
So let it go.
Forgive yourself and others.
And be free.