Every year this story comes up for the gospel reading and seems like it was just read last week. It is achingly familiar.

I am the oldest: I followed the rules. On some level, I sympathize with the elder, goody-two-shoes son. I think it’s also likely the elder son is a capitalist, who thinks that he should be measured by the work he does. The question is, is God a capitalist? This story suggests not. But that’s a line of thought of another time.

I was blown away when Luis spoke of how the elder brother defined himself by his virtue while his father defined himself by love. It seems painfully clear now, but I’d never thought of that before. So in a way, the brother is equally at fault because he hasn’t stayed by his father’s side from his love for his father but from his desire to do what he thinks is right. Maybe he acts so perfectly, so that everyone will think of him as the good son. This is a society where communal opinion matters.

By not pushing boundaries he has never tested his father’s love. (I feel like this is the logic behind teenage rebellion: If I do my own thing that you don’t like, will you still love me? Or do you only love me for who you want me to be?) I’m not advocating that the elder son also go squander all his earthly possessions. But did he ever ask his dad if he could slaughter that calf to share with his friends that he complains about never getting? Did he engage in an active relationship with his father or did he just follow the rules thinking that was enough?

Luis also pointed out that we don’t know what happens with this family at the end of the story. The parable doesn’t give us a Disney ending because this story is really about us. Are we ready to become active in relationships or are we happier to stand off in the distance making judgments about who is and isn’t worthy? (Last time I checked, that position didn’t have an opening.) It’s like Choose Your Own Adventure. The ending is up to us.