Blog/CYM Blog

Arise and Shine: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

I want to be the younger brother. We all do, I think. On many levels, we relate to him. He runs from home, squanders his money, hits rock bottom, and runs back to the love of the father. If you are in ministry, the chances are good that you were at one point the prodigal son or daughter. You experienced Christ in a powerful way that brought about your conversion and felt the embrace of God the Father as you ran home.

We get that. We’ve been there. But now we are in the house, and nobody wants to be that older brother.

What a jerk, right? He is mad that his younger brother came home and is loved? Who is he, anyway?

Right now, we are probably thinking about all of those people that are the older brother. We imagine all of the faces of people that, perhaps, insulted or doubted us when we had a conversation. We see the grumpy faces of parishioners that are upset at the unruly teen in the back of the church, and we just want to scream, “But can’t you be happy he is here! He’s a prodigal!”

Doing that is easy. It’s easy to point fingers at the person that isn’t living the faith, who is judgmental, who is missing the mark. You know, the person that is, well, a sinner.

And there it is. Hello, older brother.

There is a fine line between judgment and rebuke. We are called to avoid the former (Matthew 7:1) and to live and embrace the latter (Luke 17:3). But it is way easier to judge someone. It is tidier, and it makes us feel a whole lot better about ourselves. In youth ministry, judgment is a rampant plague – and the longer we are youth ministers, the bigger risk we have of making it a habit.

We complain about the parent that won’t stop bothering us.

We feel a deep-seated angst every time we receive that memo from the parish janitor blasting us for the state of the parish hall after the Edge Night involving glitter.

Fires burn in our eyes when that teenager just won’t get it and keeps…interrupting…my teaching.

But they are sinners. Prodigals. People lost and trying to find their way home – just like all of us. We want to ignore the big brother in the story of the prodigal son because we realize that we may be more like him. We work as youth ministers. We are supposed to welcome and love those far away. We are supposed to guide them home. We are supposed to run along with the Father to meet them as they return.

Yeah, but does that require going outside of the parish on a Friday afternoon? Because, um, I’ve got other plans.

Does that require honestly putting up with that parent so I can get to the root of his or her anxiety?

Do I need to sit next to that teenager even when I know she is going to ignore me and then talk about me poorly when I get up to leave?

Do I need to love these sinners? After all, it is probably their fault.

We are better than all of that. It is tough, once you are welcomed home into the Father’s house because we forget what it was like to be on the outside. We forget the struggle it is in those first few days of conversion when you wear the wrong thing to the early Sunday morning Mass and catch angry stares. We forget what it means not to know all the prayers, but want to pray, or how difficult it is to understand church-speak and youth group lingo. We lose the memory of how, post-conversion, we suddenly feel so a part of something and yet so outside of it.

We would do well to remember what it felt like to run home and be embraced by God the Father. We would do better to remember how wonderful it feels, how incredible it is to be welcomed by a community that didn’t come with judgment and suspicion, but with love and joy.

The Lord dines with sinners. The only pre-requisite for that meal is that we acknowledge we are one. Run and meet those that are on their way home, embrace them and get to that feast. Jesus is waiting.


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About the Author

Joel Stepanek

I spent most of my 8th grade year in detention because there wasn’t a dare I wouldn’t accept. But in high school, my youth minister dared me to follow Christ and I haven’t looked back. I love all things Wisconsin, especially the Green Bay Packers. I can probably eat more cheese than you. (Please don’t dare me to prove it.) Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @LT_Jstepanek.

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