How many times in this world is failure rewarded and success unnoticed? "Work hard, keep your nose clean," our parents told us. So we work, we toil, we labor, and the promotion goes to someone else. We work, we toil, we labor, and the recognition goes to someone else. We work, toil, we labor, and the pay increase goes to someone else.
Doesn't the brother have a valid point in Jesus' parable? He has been the good son, the faithful son. He has stayed on the farm with his father doing what faithful sons do. In the eyes the Law, he is blameless. He has truly honored his father.
His younger brother, on the other hand has not honored his father. He has lived his life as he pleased, he has disgraced his father before his neighbors, and he has not given the family a good name. Yet, when he returns home with his tail between his legs, he is honored with a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet, and the best robe available; a wardrobe that is fit only for a true son.
And to add insult to injury, the younger brother is now rewarded for his wayward ways with a party! But not just any party; a party in which the best calf, the one being saved for an exceedingly special occasion, is going to be the main course.
Can we blame the older brother for his anger, for his resentment? Hard work and clean living indeed! No good deed goes unpunished. His father never even offered the older brother a lousy goat to have a small celebration with his friends. His only reward for hard work and clean living is a lot of sweat and a sore back.
How often we sound like the older brother when our righteousness does not seem to pay off for us. No wonder we can relate to his frustration. Do we resonate with the older brother because of the injustice he has received, or is it because, like him, we fail to understand justice on God's terms? Are we, who receive mercy, stingy in giving it?