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I have a holiday Bible riddle for you.

Which do you think was the hardest: to be the Father in Waiting, the Prodigal Son, or the Older Brother?

Reflecting on Luke 15:11-32, I’m stumped by which was the most brutal. Maybe you can help. 

To be the Father, whose son basically says, “You’re dead to me!”

To be the Father, whose son runs away with your hard-earned wealth without as much as a thank you.

To be the Father, whose tear-stained face watches as a beloved child disappears over the horizon.

To be the Father, who experiences the emptiness of a severed relationship that feels more like a raw, severed limb.

Or perhaps…

To be the Prodigal Son, who celebrates the clever conning of his family for a moment, then feels the tinge of regret and shame for what he’s done.

To be the Prodigal Son, who finds the more he stuffs himself with the best of life, the more empty and less human he becomes.

To be the Prodigal Son, who rolls in raw sewage of filthy animals to satisfy his hunger pangs.

To be the Prodigal Son, who spends sleepless nights worrying of getting what he deserves if he returns home.

Or perhaps…

To be the Older Brother, who always feels like he’s getting the short end of the stick.

To be the Older Brother, who works hard, accomplishes much, yet never feels seen or appreciated.

To be the Older Brother, who thinks there’s no reward for being good and doing good.

To be the Older Brother, who watches his younger brother rewarded— an annoying sibling does the absolute worst and receives the very best.

Which was more painful?

Who would you most want to be?

Who would you least want to be?

Back to the riddle…which was the hardest? 

I share this because this holiday season, humanity is hurting deeply. It always has been, but now we see it more clearly, feel it more acutely.

The people and family members you least want to be around at holiday celebrations.

They. Are. Hurting. Too.

Like the three characters in this biblical story, you may not see it at first glance. We all feel the pain and pangs in different ways.

As you enter those difficult situations, those awkward gatherings that make you want to hide, run, fight, or say you’ve been exposed to Covid to escape (I see you!), pause to reflect on the other person’s pain, unmet longings, disappointments.

Ask God to help you see their humanity, to reflect that they, too, were made in God’s image. Ask the compassion of Christ to flood your heart… for yourself and them.  

We all feel pain… and we all have the opportunity to give someone balm.

Let’s be those people this holiday season.

And I am curious: back to the biblical riddle, which do you think would be the hardest? Comment below!

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