March 31, 2019: Giving Up Resentment by Rev. Beth Hayward (Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32)

This is a story by Teri Daly, an Episcopal priest in Arizona. She talks about her grandmother who could remember every single sin her grandfather ever committed.

She could actually construct a genealogy of them – telling you which wrong begat which subsequent wrong. Her grandparents help her move states one time using their motor home. They had owned it for several years but it had never before left the driveway, which Daly insists is a story all its own. And so this moving trip was both the motor home’s maiden and final voyage. All this is to say that her grandfather was not an experienced motor home driver and so when he pulled in off the highway to do some shopping along the way he drove into a parking garage not tall enough for the Winnebago, they got stuck.Immediately, grandma turned to grandpa and laid out in full the map of his sins. “It’s all your fault,” she snapped.

“If you weren’t so lazy you would have been out working on the rental property every afternoon instead of sitting on the stool in the restaurant drinking milkshakes, then you wouldn’t have gotten so fat that your clothes don’t fit and we wouldn’t have had to stop at JC Penny to buy you a new pair of pants, and we wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with!”[1]

I don’t know if you know anyone like that? That kind of resentment, that takes years to build up!

The thing about a parable is that every time you come to it you find a new angle, a new entry point, and a glimmer of truth that eluded you before. This week when I sat with the prodigal son I saw so much resentment.[2] Resentment from the eldest that his hard work wasn’t acknowledged, that his younger brother was honoured after wasting his inheritance.

Resentment from the younger, that he had to ask for his fair share in the first place. Maybe he felt he was being held back by his father’s expectations. I even wonder if there was are all sorts of hidden resentments from the servants. Did they resent being relegated to the role of voiceless extras in a rich man’s story?

None of us sets out to carry a truckload of resentment with us in our lives.  None of us wants to be that person the one who can’t dare to enjoy a moment of grace, so bitter that it’s like as if we aren’t even living anymore. None of us sets out to be that person. Resentment is a long game emotion. It doesn’t just show up, it’s the sum of one small indignation after another. Those little bursts of judgment that we offer day in and day out. But over time as we keep keeping score, and those righteous indignations add up we end up with a sum total of deep-rooted resentment.

It starts subtly, one little righteous indignation at a time. You know what I mean, right? How did you get a better mark when I worked harder? Who don’t you ever empty the dishwasher, or clean your room, or pick up your socks when I’m working so hard?

You know it, the voice inside your head that starts asking questions like: why do I always have to remember to pay the visa bill, to call your mother, and pick up the bread and milk after work?

Righteous indignation, because he cut me off in traffic, and she gets paid more for doing less,

you name it, we know how to get angry about the small stuff, and the big stuff for that matter.

Indignation is an anger response and we are so good we often don’t even notice we’re doing it

There’s a political cartoonist base din New York who thought a lot about this when he was drawing cartoons during the Bush presidency. Tim Kreider says he was professionally angry for eight years! It feels good. He says it’s like a rush of adrenaline running through your body.

And when you realize that anger is a physical pleasure, you begin to understand why you have this “perverse obstinacy with which the mind keeps returning to it despite the fact that, intellectually, we knew it is pointless self-torture.[3]

All of this is to say that I am really very sympathetic to the characters in this parable who end up if not resentful at least a bit indignant. If God is represented by the father in this parable as is suggested with an allegorical read by many scholars throughout time, clearly God either doesn’t know right from wrong or chooses to execute justice without appreciation for the facts.

The prodigal son? How about the dad of questionable ethics? Just imagine the places you could take this: God – the parent who rewards both kids with an ice cream when only one cleaned their room. God the player who sees someone snatch $200 on the way to Monopoly jail and says nothing. God, the teacher who doesn’t just see the child in the back of the room cheat but takes the paper from the A student and gives it to the cheater to help. It just makes no sense why – doesn’t God keep score? 

As the youngest child in my family of origin, even I feel for the eldest brother. He’s loyal, hard working, conscientious and faithful. He is all the things a firstborn should be and what does he get in return for the years he stood by his dad and worked his fingers to the bone? He gets a slap in the face. Meanwhile, the younger brother wastes all he’s been given, comes home groveling and Dad throws him a party. Not just any party, this is a kill the fatted calf, uncork the good wine, bring in the band, party til the sun comes up party.

Meanwhile out in the field big brother finishes another grueling day, dragging his feet home

dust caked on to the sweat of his brow and learns not only has his loser of a brother returned

he’s the guest of honour at the party of the year, and the elder brother wasn’t even invited.

If those who work hard are treated like this and the high rolling, swindling ones are rewarded without so much as a please or thank you, what kind of God is this? 

What kind of God is this? We’ll get to that but maybe we should begin with what kind of people are we? Do you resonate with the younger today?  Wanting your fair share of whatever it is you think you’ve earned in life? What kind of people are that we dare to come back looking for mercy when we’ve wasted the opportunity put before us?  Or maybe the elder brother’s experience rings true today: What kind of people are we that we get bent out of shape because someone else seems to have been given a better break? What kind of people are we that we can’t even join the party that’s being thrown to celebrate the redemption of others?

In the face of all this resentment what does the father do? He welcomes back the one who is lost, brings him into a great big bear hug, lavishes him with grace. It’s interesting isn’t it that this has been titled the parable of the Prodigal Son. I mean it doesn’t say that in the scripture that’s just the title it was given somewhere along the way. As if the focus is meant to be on the foolish, wasteful son. As if those of us who waste our God given gifts should consider ourselves duly warned!. But prodigal, as it turns out, means both reckless and lavish. And so it could easily be titled The Parable of the Prodigal Father. The father who recklessly lavishes us with grace and love.

Which one was more reckless really: the young one who spent what was rightfully his or the, father who welcomes him back? The idea that the nature of God is so reckless, well, it stops us in our tracks, it confounds us. We keep thinking that maybe this Kin-dom of God is just a better version of our best versions of reality when in truth the way Jesus describes it, the Kin-dom of God is so counter to our resentments and score keeping that we can barely comprehend it,

in fact we don’t comprehend it, we mostly only catch glimpses.

What does it look like when we catch a glimpse of the kin-dom where no one keeps score?

where you have no idea who is winning or losing, where there is no tracking of billable hours,

no counting the days until school lets out, no ringing up debts on the balance sheet, no cries from the backseat of “are we there yet?” no counting old grievances or grudges, no dredging up past wrongs or unsettled scores. And more than that for some reason, people in this Kin-dom have lost track of all that; in fact, they can’t remember why you’d keep count in the first place.

We almost can’t even imagine such a place.[4]

The prodigal kin-dom of God is like the Shakespearean kingdom of King Lear. Remember Lear and his favourite daughter Cordelia. When he goes to divide his kingdom, her profession of love it doesn’t seem extravagant enough for him so he banishes her from the kingdom.

Later, when he’s completely lost his mind he awakens to find Cordelia at his bedside, but she doesn’t give him what he deserves no instead she offers total forgiveness. Lear asks if he’s in France, he can’t fathom that this is happening here in his own kingdom.[5]  And the fact is Lear may be physically in his kingdom but really he has left his world and entered another. A world ruled by forgiveness, grace and all encompassing love. A prodigal world.

What does it mean to give up resentment? How will that change us and change others?

it starts small. Not with a big step. It ‘s not, in the first place, about a sudden reconciliation.

We don’t start on this path by calling up that person from whom you have been estranged for a decade and saying, “I’ve decided this is over, let’s get along.” No, I’m not suggesting that you drop your bags full of resentment and get down on your knees.

So what do we do? What’s the point of this prodigal story, this gracious reconciliation, this overflowing love that touches us in the angry, resentful places of our lives? Is there something about just learning to see things differently? Like a continued evolution of consciousness where we must break free of our quick reflexes, our desire to sort things into categories, and instead practice quieting our minds enough for another voice to enter, another possibility to be imagined?

I can’t explain it, but the gospel points to, invites us into this foreign land again and again, where not only are all welcome but grudges aren’t held and resentments don’t take root,

because no one is keeping score. A gospel land of no one-up-manship, no score-keeping, A gospel land where inner peace seems to be the starting place.

Jesus paints a picture of a world in this story of a foolish son and an even more foolish father. It is a world of unmerited grace. Some people, especially in our desperate world today,

some people won’t understand. Pulled down by the weight of their own claims, they can only sputter, “All these years, I’ve done all this, I’ve worked so hard, and this is what I get …”

But this is – as Lent is – about the story that makes no sense and is ours. This brother of yours, this co-worker of yours, this partner of yours, this child of yours, this one who was dead has come to life… And in that life there is such graciousness and such love, such peace, such hope, that we can never be the same again.


[1] https://www.openhorizons.org/why-is-it-so-hard-to-forgive-are-baby-steps-alright.html

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5307#comments With gratitude to Karoline Lewis for the angle of resentment this week.

[3] https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/14/isnt-it-outrageous/?module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=Opinion&action=keypress&region=FixedLeft&pgtype=Blogs

[4] https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1513 These thoughts and phrases are borrow graciously from David Lose.

[5] ibid