The two brothers we hear about in the Parable of the Prodigal Son are quite different from each other. The younger boy is headstrong and rebellious, while the older brother is more compliant and obedient. If we look at these two brothers in spiritual terms, they can also represent two different stages of spiritual growth: the moment of initial conversion to God, and the various times after that, when our conversion deepens and we are called to recommit ourselves to God and our vocation. As the parable shows, we can learn a lesson from both brothers.
After his initial mistake, the younger brother comes to understand how he has really messed things up. He recognizes his dire need, and realizes that he needs to return to his father. And so, ready to humble himself and repent, he sets off for his father’s house. Our initial conversion can be like that. We realize how miserable we are without God in our lives, and we decide to cast ourselves on his mercy and entrust our lives to him.
By contrast, the older brother just doesn’t realize what he has. He has stayed at home all his life helping his father, and yet he finds himself envying his brother’s happiness and independence. We may identify with him, too. We may have had a powerful conversion once, and experienced much joy and freedom. But now we are struggling to find the joy in the Christian life. We may find ourselves getting jealous, or even angry, at new converts who are excited by their newfound faith. In a sense, we need to be re-converted, and to experience God’s power in our lives again.
We might ask ourselves which brother we resemble more closely? Lent is the perfect time to come closer to God, no matter what our situation is. Like the father in the parable, our heavenly Father is eager to meet us on the road, to embrace us, and to clothe us with his love and grace. There is nothing like experiencing conversion, over and over again.