The Elder Son Syndrome. Do you have it?
In today’s Gospel from the Mass (Luke 15:1-3; 11-32), the Prodigal Son, Jesus, The Divine Psychologist demonstrates His great insight into human nature; The Elder Son Syndrome. An excerpt:
 “Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.  And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant.  And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’  But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him,  but he answered his father, `Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’  And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”
Jesus, the Divine Psychologist, gives a powerful assessment of the Elder Son Syndrome:
- From the whole of the reading, the event that triggers Christ’s telling of the Prodigal Son parable is the accusations by the Pharisee and Scribe that He is eating with tax collectors and sinners.
- The Elder Son is perhaps at first concerned about the justice of the situation: he, the elder, has served the father with good service and been obedient (at least outwardly). In contrast, the Prodigal Son, ungratefully demands his inheritance while the father is still living, blows the whole wad on “loose living”, comes home broke and is welcomed with open arms…and a fatted calf.
- He is filled with fury; the Elder can’t even bring himself to call his brother, “Brother”. You can almost hear the Elder say: “This just ain’t fair!
- The Elder goes past the issue of justice, revealing, perhaps his real objection: “you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.”
- The Elder is green with envy, that the Prodigal Son is getting something he is not: welcoming, forgiveness, a feast and his father’s affections.
- The Father does not try to justify his actions, but only says: `Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”
- There is no attempt to discuss justice or equableness; the father’s only response is that he is joyful that the Prodigal has returned.
Jesus, the Divine Psychologist, dissects the human psyche, exposing the frequent judgment that all humans make of others and the jealousy and envy that so often surfaces.
The lesson of Christ is clear – I love all sinners. I welcome the repentant. I forgive the repentant. And perhaps most importantly, is the warning to all of us: don’t fall into the Elder Son Syndrome.
After all, as the Elder Son demonstrates in the parable, he too is a sinner, in need of forgiveness.
The only trouble is that the Elder can’t see his own sinfulness and his desperate need for repentance and forgiveness.
The Elder Son Syndrome might be fatal; be careful.