Via Intentional Disciples, I found this post on the blog Thinking In Ohio exploring the elder son in Jesus’ parable through Henri Nouwen’s magnificent book, Return of the Prodigal Son. Having just returned from a three-day visit with my brother in Iowa, I found this reintroduction through Thinking in Ohio to be touching and poignant.
As is often the case, Lynn and I sleuthed yet more family secrets during our talks. We joke that our family has enough closeted tales to fuel a television soap opera for years. If anyone ever had all the information to put it together. Last week, my wife asked me about our family dynamic–why I wasn’t more of the second child? I’ve always seen myself as the eldest, and I was the eldest to come from my mother. Topping it off, I was born when Lynn was a senior in high school. He enlisted in the Air Force when I was six months old, so I knew him as more of a distant uncle rather than an elder brother. His kids being about the same age as my sister and brother tended to reinforce this, even after he returned from California to settle back in Rochester.
Health matters steered my brother and his wife to retire to Iowa a few years ago. I think the rural/small town life is a huge change for him, having lived his whole life as a city boy. It’s not hard to see a little of mysel, or of each of our parents in him.
One topic that always surfaces in our conversations is how Mom loosened up from the time she raised him (she was his stepmother, remember) to the time she raised me and our other two siblings. I’m not going to spill the messy beans on particulars, but let me just suggest that in the six years separating me and my youngest sibling, lots of things were more lenient, shall we say.
Nouwen’s premise is that he has gone through each of the characters in Jesus’ parable: lost son, dutiful son, and father. I see some of that in me and in my elder brother. In moving from experiences of lust and gluttony through sometimes embittered resentment, we might enter the role of father with a degree of insight from our experiences as sons. Or some of us might carry either lust or resentment or both as we raise our children.
It’s been many years since I read Return of the Prodigal Son. I think it might be a good time to return to it. The Sunday readings this week lead us to another familiar place: dragging the practitioners of lust (notably not the man) before the public eye only to have our own guilt (good that we have it, eh?) twist things around in God’s view.