Today’s blog was written by Janice Cappucci.
I’m so mad I could spit. First, my good-for-nothing kid brother comes home stinking like a pig sty, then my father throws a party for him. And I’m expected to join in. Outrageous.
I told my mentor from the synagogue, “Doesn’t Father realize I’m the one paying for this party? My brother already took his share of the inheritance. Everything that’s left is rightfully mine. That’s right – the wine, the bread, and especially that fatted calf – all of that is coming out of my inheritance. But Father thinks nothing of wasting it on that prodigal. Why can’t Father celebrate me? I’m the good son.”
That’s what I asked my mentor. But you know what he had the nerve to say? Maybe I’m not as good as I think! Maybe self-righteousness is just as bad as throwing money at prostitutes.
“Self-righteous!? What do you mean?” I said.
“Think about why you’re angry,” he said. “You keep talking about the fatted calf, that you’ve worked hard – seemingly for nothing.”
“Yeah … so?”
“So what does that reveal to you about your motives? Why were you working hard? Was it because you love your father? Or because you wanted his things?”
“Well, I …”
“Would it be fair to say your obedience was an attempt to control your father? And when that didn’t pay off, naturally, you got angry.”
“You make me sound so bad.”
“My dear friend, aren’t we all bad?”
“How can you say that? Not just about me, but about yourself? I see you in the synagogue and your work in the community. You’re not like the scofflaws we see everywhere. And neither am I.”
“Does outward conformity to the law please God if it’s all about delighting in one’s ‘moral superiority’? Surely you remember hearing the Scriptures these past few months? ‘There is no one who does good, not even one.’”
“Well, sure, no one is perfect, but tell me how I’m bad — working like a dog for my father. So yes, I deserve his wealth. I’ve earned every stinkin’ heifer in that pasture.”
“Brother – it pains me to say this – your sense of entitlement is damning evidence.”
“– of what!?”
“Like I said before – of self-righteousness – a struggle I know well myself.” Then seeing my face redden, he lifted his hand to my shoulder. “But let’s hold off discussing this any further tonight. How about if I send you home with just two Scriptures to read and ponder? Maybe the Lord will give you ears to hear. Would you be willing to spend some time reading and praying?”
“Certainly. I read the Scriptures all the time, you know.”
“Of course, you do. But this week, do this for yourself: As you read these two verses,” he said, handing me two small slips of paper, “write out a prayer response to the Lord.”
I tucked the verses in my bag, assuring him that whatever they said, I would return with keen insights and commentary for him next week.
Little did I know I was pocketing a little scalpel and a set of stitches. The next morning, I sat down to ponder these words:
“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”
“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”
The verses were familiar. But never before had I let them sink in. How penetrating they felt now! In my mind’s eye, I saw my younger brother wearing my father’s robe. And I saw how Father looked at him – like he was totally accepted and loved. And I saw my labors for what they were – polluted, self-serving, an attempt to earn approval and validation. What an insult to my father. As if his love was performance-based. As if he were that shallow.
I had to find him. I would write out my prayer response after I’ve made things right — after I’ve told him what a fool I’ve been. I found him and my brother, chowing down on some leftover veal sandwiches. It was just the two of them at the kitchen table, with Father’s robe draped carefully over my chair.
“Hey! We’ve been hoping we’d see you today,” he said with a tentative grin. “We’ve saved some for you. Join us?”
Veal never tasted so good.