“We will never stop being elder brothers in our hearts, until we see the work of our true elder brother, Jesus Christ.” — Timothy Keller
I am not a good Christian.
Yes, I have many of the hallmarks of what people expect a Christian to be. I go to Church every Sunday and often during the week also. I make frequent use of the sacrament of reconciliation. I teach 6th grade Catechism and am a leader of our parish men’s group. I volunteer with our prison ministry and our food house. I am generally nice to people.
But I am not a good Christian.
Today is the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The weekly readings can be found here. The Gospel includes the story of the Prodigal Sons and explains what it means to be a good Christian. I emphasize Prodigal Sons because although many homilies and reflections will focus on the repentance of the younger son and forgiveness that the father, I want to focus on the older son, the one I most easily identify with. Whenever I believe I am doing OK and becoming closer to God, the parable of the older brother brings me back to reality:
He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns, who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
The older son worked hard. He played by the rules. He was loyal to his father. By all sense of human justice, the older son was a model of perfection and deserved to be treated well, certainly better than his younger brother who had wished that his father was dead and then squander his inheritance. I certainly believe that it is unfair for the father to treat the younger son better than the older one. That is why I am not a good Christian.
Certainly God wants us to follow the rules. But more importantly, he wants us to love him with our whole being. That means stop comparing ourselves to others. It means surrendering our own egos and celebrating the joy of others. In the story of the older brother, it means celebrating the joy of reconciliation rather than being angry at a violation of standards of human fairness. I fail to do that way too often in my daily life:
- Every time I become angry with my wife rather than being 100% kind, loving and at her service because I feel I have worked harder at our marriage and that she is not respecting my feelings and desires.
- Every time I attempt to “win” an argument with my wife rather than look at the overall health of our marriage.
- Every time I snap at my children for some minor annoyance rather than being an example of a loving father.
- Every time I feel entitled to keep “my” wealth rather than share with others because I had worked hard and played by the rules compared to those who squandered opportunities.
- Every time I want to get “revenge” on someone for a real or perceived slight to my ego or honor.
- Every time I treat someone as an other or an object rather than a person created in the image of God who is part of the interconnectiveness of all humanity.
Every time that I do those things I focus on my own ego rather than union with God’s celebration of the joy of others. Every time I do those things, I am not a good Christian. That is one of the key breakthroughs in my own spiritual journey, one that I constantly need reminding of. This week, I prayer to let go of my ego and my desire to be in control and to let myself go in the mystery of God’s love.
As Fr. Larry Gillick, S.J. of Creighton University says in his weekly reflection:
“Faith allows and encourages reflections and questionings. I have some good ones myself. When I ask myself what the answers would mean, would do for me, the answer I get back is humbling. I want my brain to satisfy my longings for security or an increased sense of power. We are in a culture of questioning and getting immediate and satisfying answers. I am becoming more dissatisfied with answers and more attracted to the recognition that my personal intellect is too limited to encompass infinity.
As we approach the Eucharist this week, we might place our very good questions, necessary questions, before God and smile at our own poverty of mind. There are just some things in our older years, about which we are still too young to understand.”
Recommended Reflections for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time: