Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; Who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, And will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt? You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins…
Each of the characters in the gospel story look at life so differently, don’t they?
The younger son wants something, something he’s not getting at home. So, his desires drive him into the big world to a life of dissipation. Somehow he figured that he could buy friendship and meaning and contentment by “squandering his inheritance.” His experience of emptiness drove him to “look for love in all the wrong places,” costing him his life.
Now, the older son isn’t that much different. He somehow figured that he could win meaning, contentment, and his father’s regard by being a “good little boy.” He ended up in a life lived in resentment. It was his search for approval that cost him his life.
The father is an interesting figure. Whether you judge him to be steadfast in his regard for his boys or you understand him to have been changed through his interactions with them, it does end up that these two key moments of encounter with the boys are completely revelatory.
The younger son, whose repentance seems rather dubious to me… This young man meets a powerfully welcoming regard from his dad. At least at this moment of return, it’s the way his dad looked at him that held out the potential for transformation. “You are mine. You were lost. It is good you are back home.”
We’ll never know, except from our own story and lived experience (!), whether this younger child accepted his dad’s regard, whether he was changed by it, or whether he ended up packing and leaving home again.
Same for the older son: Whether he could accept it or whether he clung rigidly to his resentment, his dad’s regard was there for him.
My questions surface in these ways: Is there true living on the other side of resentment? Is there thriving on the other side of rebellion? Is there a loving and steadfast regard on the other side of disillusionment? Is there transformation on the other side of distance?
This year, more than others, I am intrigued by the dad’s regard for his boys. Perhaps this is the way to be seen and, then, to see the world. Perhaps this is what Lent is all about.