“He became angry.” (Luke 15:28)

The prodigal has returned to a red-carpet welcome, and the older son is fuming. But what would he rather have happened to his younger brother?

Did he want to see the scoundrel suffer? To have the door slammed shut in his face? Maybe he hoped to see him humiliated in front of the whole village. Or might he have pre­ferred to hear that his brother had starved to death in a foreign land?

Such mean-spiritedness seems pretty extreme, doesn’t it? But haven’t we all felt twinges of plea­sure over someone else’s misfortune? When a celebrity gains fifty pounds or is caught doing something dis­graceful, don’t we sometimes enjoy the news? When friends with the “perfect” family have trouble with their kids, don’t we feel even a little satisfaction?

Something in the human heart inclines to this perverse, glee­ful gloating. The Germans call it schadenfreude—a composite of the words for “misfortune” and “joy.” Schadenfreude means “to rejoice over someone else’s misfortune.” And its flip side was demonstrated by the older son. He would not rejoice at the prodigal’s good fortune. “Whenever a friend succeeds, a lit­tle something in me dies,” said the writer Gore Vidal. The admission is shocking, but unfortunately many of us have been there.

Jesus’ parable challenges us to examine how well our desires for other people line up with God’s desires. Do we want what’s good for them? Are we grieved when they experience setbacks? Are we happy when they attain success, honor, and wisdom?

It isn’t easy to change what makes us happy. In fact, it’s impos­sible without God’s help because it requires nothing less than a new heart. How incredibly blessed we are, then, that our heavenly Father longs to give us a share in his own heart of mercy. He wants to give us more of his Holy Spirit so that we can gen­erously and wholeheartedly “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Let’s seek that priceless gift!

“Create a new heart in me, Lord, and fill it with mercy. Strengthen me to recognize and resist every form of envy and to rejoice in all your works.

Micah 7:14-15,18-20;

Psalm 103:1-4,9-12