Return of the Prodigal Son: Meet the Older Brother
Jason Hildebrand on the older brother
From Henri Nouwen on the older brother:
The more I reflect on the elder son in me, the more I realize how deeply rooted this form of lostness really is and how hard it is to return home from there. Returning home from a lustful escapade seems so much easier than returning home from a cold anger that has rooted itself in the deepest corners of my being. My resentment is not something that can be easily distinguished and dealt with rationally.
It is far more pernicious: something that has attached itself to the underside of my virtue. Isn’t it good to be obedient, dutiful, law-abiding, hardworking, and self-sacrificing? And still it seems that my resentments and complaints are mysteriously tied to such praiseworthy attitudes. . . . Just when I do my utmost to accomplish a task well, I find myself questioning why others do not give themselves as I do. Just when I think I am capable of overcoming my temptations, I feel envy toward those who gave in to theirs. It seems that wherever my virtuous self is, there is the resentful complainer.
Here, I am faced with my own true poverty. I am totally unable to root out my resentments. They are so deeply anchored in the soil of my inner self that pulling them out seems like self-destruction. How to weed out these resentments without uprooting the virtues as well?
Nouwen’s keen observations into the elder son’s life:
- As the first born, he wanted to live up to the expectations of his parents and be considered obedient and dutiful.
- He wanted to please his father.
- He was obedient, dutiful, law-abiding, and hard working. But on the inside…
- When confronted by his father’s joy at the return of his younger brother, a dark power erupts in him and boils to the surface.
- Returning home from a lustful escapade seems so much easier than returning home from a cold anger that has rooted itself…