Last Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent) the Gospel reading for the Mass (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32) described how the prodigal son asked and received half of his father’s inheritance, moved to a distant region, then proceeded to squander the money he received on alcohol and women.
After he ran out of money, the son had no other choice but to go to work for a farmer, feeding and tending to the farmer’s swine. When he realized that the swine were eating better than he was, he decided to go home, apologize for his behavior, and ask his father for a job as a hired hand. As soon as the father saw his son, he ran up to him, kissed him, and ordered the servants to dress him in fine clothing and to prepare a feast so they could all celebrate his return.
Upon finding out how well the son was being treated, the other son was furious and refused to participate in the feast. He complained that his father had never shown any appreciation for his loyalty and dedication.
Although the father would have been completely justified in being angry with the prodigal son, he showed heroic kindness, forgiveness, and gratitude in responding to his son’s return.
On the other hand, the brother’s anger was completely unjustified.
He conveniently overlooked the fact that when his father split up the estate, he received the same share of the inheritance as the prodigal son. He also failed to take into consideration the fact that he was born into a wealthy family and was blessed in ways that his father’s servants and hired hands could only dream about. Instead of showing gratitude for what his father had done for him over the years, he lashed out in anger against his father.
There are times when we all feel slighted or cheated out of something we feel we deserve. There are also times when we feel as though another person has received favors or recognition that should have instead gone to us.
We have a choice as to how we can react in those types of situations. Like the brother of the prodigal son, we can become angry and resentful, or we can emulate the father and react with kindness, forgiveness, and gratitude (for what we already have).
Most of us would have reacted in the exact same way as the brother. Nine times out of ten, the anger we show toward others is unjustified. If we are sincere about imitating our Lord, we must develop the virtuous habit of always responding to others with kindness, forgiveness, and gratitude.