The Belly Soliloquy: Part II – The Older Son

The Belly Scarcely Understands Compassion (Part 2 of 3): A Series of Lenten Reflections on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 

Part 1: The Belly Scarely Understands Compassion

[He] will have to do with less for his brother to have enough.

We are told that the father had two sons. Both of them have different weaknesses. Although they aren’t tempted by the same things, they both seem to reach for more than right relationship with God and the rest of God’s creation can afford to allow them. Whereas the younger son reached for new experiences because the desires of his heart didn’t match the life and blessings he was given, the older son claims to have “been working like a slave” for his father while the younger son strayed, obeying what he interprets as all of his father’s commands. (Luke 15:29) The older son is upset that his father has forgiven his brother and wants to celebrate his return. The inheritance has already been split once. The father’s forgiving embrace of his youngest son means that the older son will have to do with less for his brother to have enough from this point forward.

Thirst for Abundance Chokes the Good News

But it is not only that the older son will have to learn to do with less material things in order for his brother to have enough. There is more to this story. The older brother’s complaints echo the grumbling of the Pharisees and Scribes that we find in the beginning of this chapter: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-3) To understand the gravity of this type of complaint, we must place this parable in the context of Jesus’ ministry. Luke’s gospel tells the story of Jesus’ proclamation that the good news is for the poor. The truth is that for the poor to have enough – for the oppressed to be set free – for the lowest rungs of society to be lifted up – some people will have to learn to be content with less. Abundance in all of its forms chokes the good news that Jesus is opening up the Love Feast to everyone.

For the Love Feast to be open to all, adjustments in everyone’s lifestyles are necessary.

Right relationship is about more than an individual’s relationship with God. The restoration of relationship between any child and their parent carries implications for siblings. The older son is quick to see his younger brother’s sins, but struggles to see his own shortcomings. For the Love Feast to be open to all, adjustments in everyone’s lifestyles are necessary. The table in this parable celebrates reconciliation and is open to both sons, but also requires them to search their hearts for impure desires that must be overcome for right relationship to flourish in community.

The Belly Soliloquy: Part II – The Older Son

The belly scarcely understands Compassion.
With pursuits of pious title and righteous recognition
the belly betrays God’s worthy harvest.
            “…for you have received your consolation…” (Luke 6:24-25)

                        No. Your gratitude is deficient.
                        Keep your wheat-fed feast

                                    “…this fellow welcomes sinners
                                    and eats with them…” (Luke 15:2)

                        Your blessings are wasted on the needy.
                        Taste the salty sweaty tears of my toil
                        that I may one day relish in my rank.
                        I stake my claim: what’s yours is mine –
                        do you think there aren’t other places I’d rather dine?


Reflection Questions

  • The older son considered himself to be faithful and obedient, even while his brother strayed. But his own self-righteousness caused him to question an open table where all who seek right relationship can repent of their sins and be forgiven.
    • What do you think true faithfulness and obedience look like?
    • Where do you see strands of faithfulness and obedience in your faith community and the world?
  • What do you think an open table that celebrates reconciliation would look like in the world today? Can you think examples outside of your context?

All who hunger, never strangers; seeker, be a welcome guest. Come from restlessness and roaming. Here, in joy, we keep the feast. We that once were lost and scattered in communion’s love have stood. Taste and see the grace eternal. Taste and see that God is good. –FWS 2126, All Who Hunger: verse 2