The Loyal Soldier is similar to the elder son in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. His loyalty to strict meritocracy, to his own entitlement, to obedience, and supposedly to his father keeps him from the very celebration his father has prepared, even though the father begs his son to come to the feast (Luke 15:25-32). We have no indication the elder son ever came! What a judgment this is on first-stage religion, and most scholars believe this story comes straight from Jesus himself.
Jesus makes the same point in his story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14), in which the Pharisee is loyal and observant and, yet, Jesus says, he missed the point; while the other who has not obeyed the law at all, but admits it, is ironically deemed “at rights with God”! These are both examples of Jesus’ reverse theology, which was intended to subvert our usual merit-badge thinking. Yet most of Christianity never got the point, and ended up creating lots of elder sons and Pharisees. Both the elder son and the Pharisee are good, loyal soldiers—exactly what most of us in the church were told was the very meaning of religion.
Until we have met the Merciful One, until we’ve experienced unconditional love, I think we all operate out of some kind of meritocracy: “You get what you deserve, and no more than you deserve.” Until we honorably discharge this Loyal Soldier, who knows little about real love, we will find it hard to meet the Merciful One. The Loyal Soldier keeps many Christians from enlightenment, from transformation, from love, from forgiveness, from grace. The Loyal Soldier wears the common disguise of loyalty, obedience, and old-time religion, which is all you have until you have experienced undeserved and unmerited love.
Adapted from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,
Gateway to Silence:
The war has ended. Go in peace.