THE STORY JESUS TELLS of the Prodigal Son may be the first parable I remember. No wonder: As the oldest of two sons, I’m sure I saw myself in the story’s elder brother, whose little brother got away with everything and received a party as punishment. I wasn’t completely certain what “loose living” was, exactly, but I knew it must describe my brother’s annoying behavior perfectly — or surely would someday, just as soon as he learned to drive.
In the years since, however, I’ve come to feel very differently about my younger brother — in fact, he somehow became one of the greatest guys I know. (And I can even grudgingly admit his intelligence and sense of humor aren’t solely the result of genetics!) As hard as he works as a television producer, I now realize he’s more responsible than most people. Two weeks of every month, he has to be away from home, flying to some mountain range or Arctic base camp. Last year, he came close to hypothermia just north of the Brooks Range in Alaska. The year before, he was bluff-charged by a bear. Every time I know he’s on a trip, I say a quick prayer that God keep him from harm and bring him home safe.
I try to turn my family and friends over to God, knowing he will do far more good for them than my late-night fears and worries will ever do. But I read Jesus’ parable these days and wonder if the elder brother ever worried about the younger even though our brothers are away from home for very different reasons. Did he ever learn that his brother was more important than the rules he’d always abided by? I wish by the end he’d followed his father’s example and said: “I’m glad you’re home safe. I love you.”