I attended a nice baptism the other day. A woman was baptized by her husband who had grown up LDS but drifted away for many years and had just returned to full activity.
The next day she was confirmed during a fast Sunday and during the testimony meeting, the man’s older brother got up to share some words. He talked about how he felt a little envious of the contrast his brother was experiencing after being away for so long and returning to the gospel fresh once more. He admitted a little envy of his brother in that respect and said:
“I’ve never felt like I needed the Lord because I’ve always done what I have supposed to.”
His words were humble, sincere, and in many ways, tragic. I could hear in my mind the criticism: “Well, there you go, another Mormon focused so much on being ‘perfect’ that he doesn’t see his own sinful nature.” I could imagine that argument surfacing somewhere. But I listened on and I remembered these words from Alma:
“And behold, when I see many of my brethren truly penitent, and coming to the Lord their God, then is my soul filled with joy; then do I remember what the Lord has done for me, yea, even that he hath heard my prayer; yea, then do I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me.” (Alma 29:10)
I thought of the so-called parable of the prodigal son. We praise the lost one who returns and I think rightly so, but what of that elder brother who stays because he desires to do the right thing? The elder brother was envious of the celebration over the return of his brother, and the attention the father was giving him. But remember that he benefited from always having the father with him, he was never estranged.
The return of the lost brother may have revealed how little the elder brother appreciated the continual presence of his father that he had day to day all those years. The parable hits home how we tend to take for granted the most those things that we worry about the least.
We can blame the lost son for being wasteful and sinful, and we can blame the elder brother for being judgmental and self-righteous, but in the end, the brother coming back found his salvation while the brother that remained may have awakened to a greater appreciation of what he had taken for granted.
Just like Alma’s account, something special happens when those that stray are reunited with those that stay. As that union happens, all are blessed tremendously and I believe this is by design.
One is no greater than the other, no better or worse off for what they had or had not gone through; in the end, the prodigal son and his brother were both in the presence of their father.