I have always loved the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It simply starts out with "There was a man who had two sons." I remember mostly hearing the story with the focus on the younger prodigal son. But the story is about two sons and there are lessons to be learned from both.
The younger son approached his dad, asking for his portion of his inheritance so that he could leave. The oldest son in those day would be given a double portion, meaning the younger son would receive a third of his father's property. The father complied and the younger son packed up and left for a far away country where he squandered his money, spending it all on immoral, reckless living. He didn't make poor decisions or lose it in business deals, he simply wasted it on things he thought would bring him fleshly pleasure. As a result, he experienced poverty for the first time. Soon a famine hit the land making it impossible to get food. He eventually got a job feeding pigs, which would have been a shameful position as a Jew. It was a stinky dirty job that seemed to reflect his spiritual state.
The older son's attitude makes me uncomfortable, because I see me in him and can relate to his judgments. I wish didn't but I do. There have been times I've worked hard and was not noticed, only to have someone new come along and get praised for one project. I resented it a lot. I also used to pride myself on being nonjudgmental, but a sweet lady once told told me that we all make judgments every da and sometimes judgments help us make good decisions and sometimes they are sinful.
I also realized I often chose churches because people in them looked like me. Around the time I had the above conversation with my friend, a therapist suggested I find a support group for eating disorders and there wasn't one in my community. She referred me to a ministry for those struggling with addictions and codependency. When I first walked in, judgments were screaming in my head. I wanted to run, but didn't. There I heard stories that melted my prideful heart, allowing God to fill it with compassion and love. There I saw hardened hearts softened and people extending grace while holding each other accountable in such a beautifully balanced ways. I shared my story one night and there were sniffles, the loudest being among the biggest burliest guys, who had originally scared me. I grew to love them because they were so honest, transparent, and hungry for God.
There I realized the years I had spent in church, I had been trying to earn God's love and to cover up my sinful parts and my judgmental heart. I loved the recovery group because it was there I realized God's love was freely given. There was nothing I could do to earn it and nothing I could do to lose it. The fleshly business of trying to earn love was put to death. I also bumped into a friend there who introduced me to her sister, who was covered in tattoos. At first I judged her, but over time I came to love this gal and her big heart and even got a small tatt to remind myself not to judge.
When this gal passed away. Her funeral was exactly what I have come to desire all churches to be, and what I imagine heaven already is--a mixture of people from all walks of life. A place where addicts sit next to the "church people who appear to have it all together." A place where the poor are seated among the rich. A place where the tattooed are sprinkled among the conservatively dressed. A place where those with nose rings and piercings are scattered among those with traditional jewelry. A place where the wounded are actually tended to, a place where the vulnerable find safety, a place where differences are celebrated, and a place where every prodigal is restored and rejoiced over. At that crowded funeral filled with prodigals we had one thing in common, our friend and when a song was sung all of our eyes were leaking for the one who had overcome big, big stuff and who had loved so big. To me, the people at her funeral represent the death of the conflict between prodigals and pharisaical siblings.