(Adapted from a passage in Longing for Home by Fredrick Buechner)
“Am I my brother’s keeper?”
It is the cry of every brother, of every sister. Those who have siblings, may have felt at one time or another like Cain toward his brother Abel. I know my older brother and sister had their moments with me, their baby brother, fleeting moments of leaving their little obnoxious brother somewhere…
Sibling rivalry is a common theme in the bible. The challenge we have of loving someone who is so close to us.
Desmond Tutu reminds us that "you don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them." Although I suspect there are times when we don’t feel our family is such a gift!
As a parent, I know that I have to embody that love for my kids especially when they don’t feel that love towards their sibling, who borrowed something without asking or who said something mean, where they can easily turn to bickering and anger.
So it’s easy for me to hear the Parable from Luke, of the Prodigal Son, the Waiting Father & the Elder Son through the father’s role: a loving father who waits faithfully for his lost son with love & forgiveness in his heart. This parable can be viewed in a lot of different ways, the young son who take his share of the inheritance and runs away. Who comes back when he realizes, after its all gone, that he needs to go back to be in relationship with his family. And then there is the faithful and elder brother.
Who upon the return of his younger brother, is angry that there is a celebration to welcome this son back, when he alone has been the faithful one. The father offers reassuring words, reconnects with him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
It is a beautiful parable about faith, forgiveness, patience. But I want to explore the position of the elder brother in the parable. Now I admit, I stole this idea from a friend, he is the dean of the Episcopal cathedral in St. Louis. He looks at this parable through the lens of one my favorite movies: Field of Dreams.
“At the end of Field of Dreams -- in many ways a parable of the Prodigal Son parable itself -- Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) has had it. He has risked losing his farm by following a strange voice (if you built it, he will come). He has risked alienating his family and suffered the ridicule of just about everyone by plowing under his corn (his cash crop!) and building a baseball field. He then followed that voice to Boston to pick up an old writer, Terence Mann and now that writer - and not Ray - has been invited by Shoeless Joe Jackson to go through the corn and experience something extraordinary.
And so Ray, who has been completely faithful, feels like he has been unappreciated, and didn’t get his due.
Ray Kinsella: I did it all, I listened to the voices, I did what they told me, and not once did I ask what's in it for me!
Shoeless: What are you saying, Ray?
Ray: I'm saying... what's in it for me?
Shoeless: Is that why you did this? For you? I think you better stay here, Ray.
Now we believe that hard work should pay off. And even though we know plenty of cases where that isn't true, there is still the small child inside us that wants to scream "But, it's not fair!" when we see someone else who didn't seem to work as hard ... or didn't work at all ... getting the spoils, just like Ray does.
It's nothing new. It's the cry of the elder son in Jesus' parable. His slacker younger brother has blown his part of the family savings, and he's the one who gets the party. And so he cries: "What about me?" "It's not fair!" "What's in it for me?"
The father's answer to the son is the same as Shoeless Joe's answer to Ray. "Is that why you did this Ray, for you?"
What Shoeless Joe reveals to Ray is that he never did this for himself. It was never about him. It was all an act of love for his father ... in his case a father he had become estranged from. And that relationship ... that relationship was the real gift, the only thing that matters. We are each other’s keeper, for it is about embodying that love toward each other. From Field of Dreams:
Ray Kinsella: What are you grinning at, you ghost?
Shoeless Joe: "If you build it -" [gestures toward catcher, who is Ray's father, John Kinsella] "- he will come."
Ray: That’s my father. "Ease his pain. Go the distance." [It was him!
Shoeless Joe: No, Ray. It was you.]
The parable of the prodigal son is not only a reminder to us that no matter how far we stray that God is always ready to receive us back. It's a reminder that the reward for our faithfulness isn't wealth or fame ... or even a great party. The reward for our faithfulness is a relationship with a God who loves us without end, weather we are the prodigal son or the elder brother.
The reward for our faithfulness is a relationship with a God who says: "Child, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours."
The reward for our faithfulness is a relationship with a God that God is always willing to invest in & seek us out, but we have to invest in that relationship as well.” (The Very Rev. Mike Kinman – Gnaw on This)
If you build it ... God will come.