What is the greatest source of resentment in our lives? What issues, problems and experiences drive us to resent situations in our lives? How do we deal with these complex emotions? What is the source of them?
Scripture: Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32
The younger son wanted his freedom. He was not content to wait until his father passed away. He resented that he had to wait until his father died to enjoy his life. He wanted to live while he was young, to go and travel to far off lands, taste new foods and experience different cultures. He couldn’t afford this and resented the fact that he would have to wait until he was older. He was tired of working in the field, managing the servants and the daily toil that had become his life. He resented the circumstances he found himself in.
The older son was disappointed but not surprised in the actions of his younger brother. Part of him was jealous that his brother had gone off to see the world. But the older brother knew it was his duty to stay and help with the family business. Still part of him resented not only his brother, but his own sense of duty that trapped him here. When his brother returned he resented how his brother was treated by his father. Welcomed back even though he had spent all that money, wasted it all.
We often talk about the resentment that the two brothers had towards their situation. It is the father figure who provides grace, love and context to the story. However, I wonder if the father resented things too?
Did the father resent that his youngest son asked for his inheritance? Did the father resent that his eldest seemed to take things so seriously and was never able to partake of all that was available to him?
Professor Amanda Brobst-Renaud describes the differences we find in the passage. “The contrast between the brothers draws the reader into the tension between them.
- The younger son travels to a distant land; the elder son remains home.
- The younger son indicates he is no longer worthy to be called a son and asks to be made into a servant; the elder son describes himself as slaving away and receiving nothing.
- The younger son is dead and then alive, lost and then found; the elder son is always with the father.
- The younger son is the guest of honor at the party; the elder son learns about the party from a slave.”
It’s easy to understand how the resentment between these two characters would build. It is also easy to imagine ourselves in situations similar to the brothers. I imagine we have been in situations that are similar. Resentful of a friend who travels to Panama for six months of the year. Resentful of the winner of the chili competition at church. Resentful when someone else is promoted when we’ve been slaving away, wondering where our invitation to the party is? We’ve all been there.
When we open up and examine the parable of the Prodigal it reminds us that we are never only one of the characters. That a variety of similar situations can create the feelings of resentment that are found here.
Professor Karoline Lewis frames it this way and then adds an interesting twist, “We might see ourselves in the shoes of the older brother, resenting his younger brother for not following the protocol of birth order, birthright, and responsibility; resenting his father for welcoming a son undeserving of such love. We might see ourselves in the shoes of the younger brother, resentful of having to wait for what is owed him, resentful of having to play the game to get back into his father’s graces. We might see ourselves in the shoes of the father, having to show mercy when mercy is not deserved. But when we start to realize that God’s lavish love is the object of our resentment, well, that’s when the gap is almost unbearable. What do we do when we resent God for God’s seeming unfairness, God’s welcome of those unworthy of mercy in our eyes, God’s indiscriminate grace? Now, there’s a source of resentment that is not as easy to let go and the steps for doing so are far less clear.” (reference).
As Jesus was hanging on a cross between two thieves, one of them known as the penitent thief asks Jesus “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42). Jesus replies, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
We look at that story and we know nothing of the thief, except that he was a thief who was sentenced to die. What did he do that he deserves God’s grace? We resent it without realizing it, but we see it as unfair. Within our limited notions of justice this thief doesn’t deserve the grace he’s been offered, but there it is. Our resentment stems from our own feelings of inadequacy. It arises out of the question we ask of ourselves, what if Jesus doesn’t offer me grace? But surely I’m a good person, if that thief…
Whether we like it or not, whether we will admit it or not we carry around resentment for a variety of things. It’s a bitter pill we have swallowed and we don’t know how to let go of it. Our resentment and everything that comes with it gets in the way of our building of positive life giving relationships.
Professor Michael Curry reminds us, “We were made by God to be in loving relationship, harmony, and communion with God, each other, and all creation.”
We were made to be in relationship with one another, to be in harmony with one another. But we let resentment get in the way.
Friends, what is God’s answer to our resentment?
Love, grace, mercy, understanding.
Think back to the story of the Prodigal Son. When the younger son returns he never makes it to the house. His father is out the door to greet him with a hug. Later the older son is trying to figure out what’s going on, he’s out in the fields stewing in his own resentment. The father once again leaves the house to greet and comfort his older son.
In both cases, with the younger and older son, the father leaves the house. He crosses the threshold twice and in both instances offers love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. That is God’s answer to our resentment. To love us all the more. Thanks be to God. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.