Seeds of the Word - The merciful father who had two sons (Part 3)

Prodigal Son, Wikimedia Prodigal Son, Wikimedia

Part 3 of 3: When envy leads us to judge God and our neighbor

In the first two parts of this series, we reflected on the processes of self-destruction and conversion, developed by Jesus through the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-20a), and on the process of divine forgiveness through the Merciful Father (20b-24).

We conclude our study reviewing the Older Son’s feelings, who reacts with anger at his father, and with no mercy at his brother.

“Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became anger, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him.” (25-28)

Opposite to the mercy that made his father react with all his being and that allowed his repented brother to recover his dignity, the older son reacts “becoming anger." The Greek expression used by Luke actually translates to “becoming irate." This feeling of wrath contrasts with his father’s, deeply moved in that rehem (mother’s bosom) from which rehemim (mercy) bursts out. In the Old Testament, mercy resides in the mother’s bosom, while anger resides in the nose. We can tell someone is furious by his agitated breathing. By making the older son becoming irate, Jesus implies that he reacted furiously and with great violence.

In the older son’s case, his wrath sets a barrier against his father and envy towards his brother. This wrath is split in two trajectories, both filled with poison. On one hand, he does not understand his father. On the other, he shows despise using rude and offensive words against his brother.

Irate at his father

“He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.’’” (29)

The older son’s wrath is fruit of his inability to understand his father’s behavior, which looks to him unfair and scandalous. He feels he is such a good son that he thinks he is in the position of judging not only his brother, but his father as well.

Irate at his brother

“But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’” (30)

Wrath is very dangerous. It leads to quarrels and fights; it divides people and may turn into bloody actions. The location from where the older son comes back home is noteworthy: the field. This anger and this field lead us to recall the anger felt by Cain at the field when God accepted the offering of Abel, his brother. A brother who gets irate at his brother to the point of killing him, moved by his envy alone.

Envy is defined as the resentful longing of someone else’s possessions. All the belongings of the old son’s father are his. Nonetheless, envy sets his heart on fire when he knows his father has slaughtered the best calf for his brother.

The father’s mercy prevails

“He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’” (31-32)

The prodigal son has come back to his father moved by his repentance. The good son has parted from his father, moved by his envy.

O Merciful Father, never let us believe that we are so good children of yours, that pride blinds us making our heart envy our brothers and sisters, as you shed your infinite mercy upon them.

Be passionate about our faith!

Read the Spanish version of this “Semillas de la Palabra” column from the September 2016 issue of NORTHWEST CATHOLIC.

Mauricio I. Pérez, a member of St. Monica Parish on Mercer Island, is a Catholic journalist. His website is