rembrandt-prodigalJesus told the story of two brothers locked in conflict. The younger was a narcissistic idiot; the older a dedicated contributor to the family business. The younger took his share of the family’s resources, wasted it on wild living, and came back for more. When he came home to fanfare and open embrace, this upset the older brother. Nothing but reliable and dedicated, he saw the fathers’ double helping of generosity as injustice, pure and simple.
And why not? There was a finite amount of resource in the family system which had been divided fairly between the two brothers. Any extra given to the younger would have to come from elder’s share.
And who could disagree? It’s math.
And yet, Jesus didn’t tell the story that way. He didn’t side with the brother’s sense of justice. In his story, the brother’s indignation was the wrong response.
What’s up with that?
win-loseJesus seemed to be working with a larger framework of reality. Most attempts at resolving conflict address justice, fairness, equity, and punishment from within a win-lose paradigm. I am me. You are you. My job is to fight for me; yours is to fight for you. Hopefully, we can negotiate an agreement in which neither of us wins or loses so much that the other can’t bear it.
And if reality is that you and I are a two-ness, that makes all the sense in the world.
But if you and I are one, not two, then it doesn’t make sense at all.
membersIf you and I are indeed members one of another, then our negotiation needs to be for the well-being of the whole, not just the part. You and I are contained in a single system. If we are of a oneness, then we need to have a big enough perspective to see that oneness… and negotiate for the good of the whole.
If you win and I lose, then the system has lost. If you lose and I win, the system has still lost.
In Jesus’ story, both sons were working with a two-ness paradigm. The debauched brother, realizing he had behaved badly, didn’t see himself worthy to be a full member of the family. The reliable brother saw his own fortunes diminished by his brother’s re-entrance into the family.
But Jesus inserted a character in the story, the father, who rose above a two-ness view. He saw the family from a whole.
If the older brother wins and the younger loses, that just won’t do.
If the younger brother wins and the older loses, that won’t do either
What is needed here, is a resolution that is good for the whole system.

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