Denethor of Gondor, Prince of his people, was a leader of the fight against evil. He was brave, strong, resolute; he was a hero, he was a protector. But he was jealous, jealous of anyone’s popularity except his son Boromir’s, and he didn’t admit others were on the same side he was. When he was reminded he could call on his ancient allies the Rohirrim for help, he didn’t want to; it had to be done for him. He wanted to win the war on his terms, with himself in charge and when he couldn’t, he gave up in despair. The enemy had taken a key position outside his city: he was determined to send his men on an impossible mission to get it back when good advice said keep them in the city. When it seemed his future hopes in his sons was lost, he was ready to end not only his life, but the life of his country, the tradition of freedom that went back millennia. When his city needed him the most, he was going to burn himself to death.
In the end, Denethor’s choice made the task of saving his people more difficult, distracted Gandalf when he didn’t need to be distracted. If he could have given up his pride and jealousy, he could have played a large role in winning the War of the Ring and brought in the new hope to come. Instead he opted for death and oblivion.
Prodigal Son is a parable we can relate to, especially the first part. In that culture, the younger son was saying he wished his father dead, and when he unexpectedly got his inheritance early, he left town and wasted it. He only came back because he had to, because he wasn’t willing to starve to death in a foreign land. The Father’s acceptance of his return was grace beyond belief: his Father would have been within his rights to kill him. Instead he made his prodigal son welcome and gave him back life.
The older son was jealous of Father’s love, and just as much a prodigal as his brother. He made no move to help the situation, shirking his role to try to keep his brother from leaving that his culture dictated. When his brother came back and there was a celebration with the whole town at his house, the older brother chose to shame his family by going into open revolt. The Father would have been within his rights to kill the older son as well for publicly embarrassing the family. But instead the Father came outside, tried to reason with his son, reassured him that everything was his (which it was because his brother had spent everything he had), and asked him to embrace the reconciliation offered.
What did the older son do eventually? Did he stand there fuming, not coming inside, continuing his rebellion until his father shook his head and walked away? Did he enter the party, take up his expected role as second host, make sure everything went well and the guests were enjoying themselves?
The younger son accepted the grace, gave up his ego and became part of a new reality. What did the older son do? Did he set aside his selfishness and come into the feast? Was he like Denethor?
We are called to be people of reconciliation, we called to come back to God. We are called to forgive the people who’ve walked out of our lives and make space for them when they return. Is it easy? No. But God’s love isn’t limited. Forgiveness of others doesn’t affect our place in Jesus’ heart, as St. Augustine said: “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” Forgiveness of others is something we do for ourselves, so we can take up our proper place in God’s Kingdom, so we can be vessels of love and reconciliation with a clean heart.
It’s something we have to do for ourselves, or we can fall into a trap that will devour us in flames of jealousy. We can stand on the outside, grumbling about those who don’t belong, or we can come inside to the feast. We don’t know what the older son does: we have to answer that question for ourselves. What will we do? Will we throw ourselves on a funeral pyre of our own pride and jealousy? Or will we come into the feast Christ offers all of us?