3.3 The Brother: Forgotten Identity (Luke 15:11-32)
There is profound irony as Jesus' parable nears the end. The younger son, in attempting to master his own destiny, in attempting to "find himself" in a far away place, in actuality had forgotten his identity; he had lost himself. Now in an attempt get back what he had willfully thrown away, he returns home.
It was quite an act of repentance for the prodigal son to return home. As he walked down the road getting closer and closer, each step was an act of contrition, each mile a turning to reclaim his identity. And as he embraces his father he discovers that, once again, he is himself. Amazing grace has found what once was lost.
The irony of the story is found in the fact that while the younger son has returned to reclaim his identity, the older brother, though faithful to his father, has forgotten his. He may not have shamed the family name and left home to "find himself," but one does not need to travel far from home to forget who one is. In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that we can betray who we are in the routine of the everyday while we are right close to home.
Sin is amnesia. It is a loss of identity. When the younger son states in tears, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you," he is in effect saying, "Father, I have forgotten who I am." It is in this acknowledgement that his memory is returning.
It is now the older brother's turn to forget himself. He has forgotten the virtue and grace he was taught, those very qualities that his father so embodied, that in joy he opened his arms to his once wayward son. The younger son had abandoned his older brother at home, now it was the older brother's turn to abandon the younger son in his hour of need. Turn about is fair play.
But not so in the eyes of God. If turn about were fair play, all of us would be doomed. God is more interested in identity recovery then playing fair. The Bible says that "God does not treat us as our sins deserve, nor repay us according to our iniquities" (Psalm 103:10). This is a good thing, to be sure.
The younger son was not his father, which led him to seek the prodigal life. But neither was the older brother his father; that is why he could not open his arms to his brother. Sin, amnesia, loss of identity are quite prevalent in the story.
"Remember who you are." This is something I like to say just before I administer the sacrament of baptism. "Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above... you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you will appear with him in glory" (Colossians 3:1-3; selected portions). It is in living a life that is pleasing to God, it is in living a life according to the character of Jesus Christ that we remember who we are. It is in moral living, and in extending grace and forgiveness, that we become who we are, that we become like Jesus. It is in that Christ-like character that we find our identity.
God's amazing grace can indeed find what is lost; it can cure our amnesia as we remember who we are as children of the Heavenly Father.
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)