Faith and religion are like the brothers we see in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. Likewise we see ourselves in the story.
Compare religion with the “older son” (Luke 15:25-29). There is an inner drive to be the “good son”. To dutifully devote oneself to God the Father. To never disobey his commands. To put this into practice through perfect worship and righteous acts.
Faith, then, is like the “younger son” (Luke 15:12-24). It is not as pragmatic or orderly as its “older brother”. A dreamer, if you will. But deep within it is a confidence in God’s loving-kindness.
So which “brother” should we strive to be?
When we hear and re-hear the story of Prodigal Son, we often pause to wonder this. We wonder how we can be a better version of ourselves. A better child of God.
And this is what we do. We regularly attend worship just as the older brother would. We do all the things we need to do to make sure we end up on the right side of Heaven.
Deep within, we share in the faith of the younger son. We are fully confident that God loves us no matter what wrongs we might do in life.
In short, we strive to be both brothers. We make faith synonymous with how we practice our religion.
But here’s the shocker about the parable: it is not about brotherly quarrels. It is not about faith or religion. It is not about us.
When Jesus tells the parable, he was talking about himself. It was a response to the Pharisees’ complaint against him (Luke 15:2). More importantly, Jesus speaks about what God can and will do through him.
God looks to us and is always pleased when we do good. As the father of the story says “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”
God is also willing to welcome us into his arms when we seek him out. He wants to forgive us and to “celebrate and rejoice” when we lose our way from God. God wants nothing more but to love us.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son reveals that God loves us despite ourselves. “So be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord” as Psalm 32 urges us. “Shout for joy, all who are true of heart”.