The Prodigal’s Brother

My memory may elude me quite a bit, but for some reason I remember watching an interview between Stephen Colbert and Father James Martin a few years back. I believe it stood out to me so much because I had seen Father Martin’s book in the Christian section of Borders (rest in peace). The cover just looked so cool to me:

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On top of that, you don’t usually see too many late night hosts interviewing priests, so that grabbed my attention before I even knew this guy was related to this book.

I had since then forgotten about The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, but I managed to find it on the shelves of Borders (rest in peace again) as they were going out of business, so I grabbed myself a copy. After all, I do enjoy reading up on Christian history and much of this book was conversation based around the Jesuit founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola. And from what it seemed in the interview, Father Martin had a sense of humor that would make his book an enjoyable read (as proved thus far).

Anyways, I bring this up because there is a part in chapter two that really stands out to me. It is here that Martin reviews six general paths that people tend to take to get to God. I more or less grew up in the first one he mentions known as the path of belief. To summarize, I more or less grew up believing in God and haven’t really had a struggle with believing in His existence (though of course I’ve had my own struggles outside of that). I love what the author had to say on this path:

Others sometimes envy people who walk along the path of belief. “If only I had faith like you!” one friend often tells me. While I understand her sentiment, that persepetive makes faith seem like something you have rather than have to work at keeping. It’s as if you’re born with unquestioning faith, like being born with red hair or brown eyes. Or as if faith were like pulling into a gas station and filling your tank.

But it was what he had to say a few paragraphs later that really grasped my attention, because I saw a little bit of me in his statement:

One pitfall for those on the path of belief is an inability to understand people on other paths and a temptation to judge them for their doubt or disbelief. Certainty prevents some believers from being compassionate, sympathetic, or even tolerant of others who are not as certain in their faith. Their arrogance turns them into the “frozen chosen,” consciously or unconsciously excluding others from their cozy, believing world. This is the crabbed, joyless, and ungenerous religiosity that Jesus spoke against: spiritual blindness

Now I don’t think that I struggle with this problem anywhere near as harshly as he stated it. In fact, I think I always aim to be compassionate, sympathetic, and tolerant to others struggling with their faith as well as with those who don’t believe at all.

But sometimes I think I have less compassion for those whom I know were incredibly firm in their belief and have left God. Perhaps if you share the same path you know what I mean?

For example: let’s say you’ve grown up with close friends who have since then seemed to have turned away from God. They went to the same events as you, experienced the same moves of God as you, and entered into deep discussion about God with you. Or maybe you didn’t grow up with them, but you’ve talked with a person enough to know that you both have had a similar background and belief system. And then, something happens in that person’s life and they completely turn away from Christ.

Yes, there are even Christians who have tangibly experienced the supernatural ways of God and have still convinced themselves that He is not real (usually because they no longer needed Him or because they felt like He didn’t follow through for them).

Now this isn’t a huge struggle for me, but when I find myself in such a situation, I sometimes feel betrayed and upset. If I know them and their faith well enough, then I begin to wonder how they could turn their back on God. How could something come into their life and take that away from them? It’s not like my life in the Christian faith has aways been easy and I’ve still pushed through. What right do they have to leave? Furthermore, they know pretty much everything about Christianity so they certainly know what they’re turning their back on!

I more or less find myself living in the shoes of the prodigal son’s brother. They run away and do everything wrong while I try to stay close to the Father. And when you actually put yourself in the context of the prodigal’s brother, you begin to see the difficulty of a big ol’ party being thrown for your runaway brother when he returns.

But that’s the kind of God we serve. One who returns to His people time and time again. One who rises up to reach those even though they’ve sinned greatly against Him. One who dies on a cross while they point and mock.

Like I said, this isn’t a huge issue for me, but sometimes I can sense the pain of the prodigal’s brother. And just so you know, everything inside of me wants that person to come back to Christ and be saved again. That is always my hope and there is no issue there. It’s just that it can be upsetting at times.

But we are called to look past that pain and bring the lost home to Christ for their welcoming party. For He always leaves the ninety-nine to find the one.

And we are called to do the same.

We must always be compassionate.

We must always be full of grace.

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