Sunday Reflection, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 15, 2013): The Older Brother and Why I’m Not a Good Christian

Older-Brother-700x461

“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:

Creighton Online Ministries
Word on Fire
Timothy Keller Prodigal Sons Sermon

About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog (www.teilhard.com) explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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13 Responses to Sunday Reflection, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 15, 2013): The Older Brother and Why I’m Not a Good Christian

  1. Lynda says:

    The Parable of the Prodigal Son provides so much for us to consider. Thank you for your honest and thought-provoking reflection on the elder son. There is some of the younger son and some of the elder son in most of us as we journey to try to be the loving father. I am so grateful that God is loving and forgiving and God wants to be in relationship with all people. My prayer is that I will allow God’s love and grace to be sufficient for me – that I will not long for anything else.

    • Lynda, you nailed it. The parable of the Prodigal Sons is one of my favorite parables as it gives us so much to consider. My focus this week is to try to be detached from anything that gets in the way of God’s will. Hope you have a great weekend!

  2. domzuccone says:

    The difference between good and perfect is small but essential. What we’re asked to do is the entire process of living, engaging and continuing…very messy like a car engine. What we want is perfection,; we want to be done with all the mess and reassessments and contrition and be good like a car is a Buick. Unchangeable, branded, a Buick no matter where it goes. Humanity requires messiness; it’s part of who we are we’re all dynamic mess.

    • Yes, one of the great paradoxes of Christianity is the messiness of humanity and why God not only tolerates us but loves us. Similarly, it is ironic that some of humanities great accomplishments can come from great tragedies.

  3. claire46 says:

    Nice post, William. Thought-provoking. The parts of light and shadow in each one of us. What is extraordinary to me is that the Godde who has created me and rests deep within me loves me as I am where I am. She also welcomes me back again and again and carries me when I can’t walk.
    A Godde who doesn’t so much want me to do but to be — mainly in love with Godde and Her creation.
    You seem to be doing all of the above, in your most wonderful human way.
    Blessings.

    • Very insightful Claire. Must be that intensive Ignatian immersion 🙂 I am working on the being part and falling deeper in love with God rather than getting caught up in my personal egos, desires and judgments. The story of the Prodigal Sons gives us a lot to reflect on.

      Peace,
      W. Ockham

  4. Ponder Anew says:

    very timely and insightful…& thank you for following my blog

  5. Henry Jekyll says:

    William, I would like to thank you for sharing this part of yourself. You have reminded me that the world is full of people who seek the higher order of “the good” and do not merely seek to define their lives by the illusion of ego and elaboration of the material. The following words crossed my path some time ago and although I am uncertain of the source, I thought you may find them somewhat befitting. Have no recrimination against yourself for the element of irreducible rascality that you possess, since the path to perfection can only continue by acknowledging its existence. Keep well good sir.

  6. Henry Jekyll says:

    Btw, I ran a search on “element of irreducible rascality” and Alan Watts was returned. Now that I think about it, that does sound about right.

  7. Prayer and Truth says:

    My goodness, this post made me stop and think a great deal. Your blog really inspires me 🙂

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