One of our cats ran away for a 30-hour trek into the woods.
Our other cat stayed home.
In sympathy, my daughters talked about our large black cat missing his smaller orange “brother.” He meowed and we thought it was a meow of sadness. My three-year-old showed him extra affection out of concern for his worried feline heart.
Maybe he was just meowing because he was hungry.
Because when our orange cat finally sauntered home at 2 a.m., the stay-at-home cat seemed to care less at first.
Then the hissing started.
Four days later there was still hissing.
The prodigal tries to eat food, or brush up close to the larger cat, or snuggle up on the bed where the stay-at-home cat is napping.
And we hear the ugliest, most evil hissing sound. It’s hardly a warm reception for our runaway.
We have the classic case of the prodigal son and the older brother who remained at home working the fields. It’s playing itself out between a behemoth black cat and a skittish orange cat in our very own home.
And this I understand just a tiny bit.
In Scripture, the prodigal son demanding his inheritance before his father’s death was more than just a young adult rebellion and a little bit of wandering and partying before responsible adulthood.
Sure it sounds so calm and level-headed at first glance when the younger son said to his dad, “Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me” (Luke 15:12).
Yet, it was really the ultimate rejection of a parent. In essence, the prodigal son said, “I wish you were dead, so I’m going to take my inheritance and leave as if you had already died.”
We sometimes miss the enormity of the disrespect and insult and treat the prodigal as if he just had a wild stage that he needed to get out of his system or simply a little curiosity about the big wide world.
But it was so much more than that. It was cutting off that relationship in what the son knew was a permanent, hurtful, totally destructive, rude, and unfeeling way.
“I don’t want to ever see you again. I wish you were dead. I hate you.”
That’s what the son said.
And here I am with this runaway cat, feeling the tiniest bit of rejection (and worry) that he would choose a night outside over our cozy home with food, fresh water, and places to stretch out for comfortable naps.
How much more the hurt of that father watching his son slamming doors and shouting in anger?
Of course, in their case when this same prodigal son crawled home, humbled and hurting, the father killed the fatted calf and threw a Welcome Home party.
And we haven’t done that. No special treatment. No canned tuna opened to celebrate our cat’s return. It’s just business as usual for us.
But still our other cat hisses in annoyance like that older brother in the field, re-asserting his authority and his territorial rights. It’s more than a bit ugly.
Every week, folks might walk through our church doors who we’ve never seen before or those we haven’t seen for a long time.
In some cases, they will be simple visitors, passing through the sanctuary for only a brief time. Others might be long-lost friends. Still others might be the prodigals slipping into the pews, hoping not to draw too much attention to themselves.
And we have to choose how to welcome them.
With open arms.
Or with territorial hissing.
Or sanctimonious displays of righteousness and very little grace.
This past week, I read of a woman who slipped into the pews of a church before the service began one Sunday morning. She bowed her head low and cried, mourning the death of her son.
A woman in the church walked over and stood looming over her while she prayed.
Finally, the visitor looked up expecting someone to pray for her or hug her or ask how to help her.
Instead, she was told, “I’ve been attending this church for 17 years and that’s my seat.”
That’s the ugly sound of hissing.
We do this in other ways, making us 200-or-so “older brothers” feel mighty cozy on a Sunday morning while showing the prodigals they really aren’t welcome here.
Perhaps we need the reminder to leave room–and not just pew space–for the younger brothers returning home, for the lost, and for the hurting.
How do you make visitors, new folks, and pretty much anyone feel welcome in your church?
Originally posted March 25, 2013
Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness. Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now! To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.