Which Brother Ended Up Off-Target?

All of us have heard the story of the Prodigal Son.  He was the young man tired of living at home and talked his dad into giving him his inheritance in advance.  From his view, his world was currently too small, boring, and, for sure, way too restrictive.  “Time to get out of here.”  So, he took off with fun and frolic being his agenda.  Luke 15:13 called it “loose living.”  I am sure loose living included living out his sexual fantasies, boozing, and gambling.  With his money, he was the life of the party.  Uh oh, the party didn’t last as long as he envisioned.  He became bankrupt and his frolicking friends and fantasy makers no long wanted any part of him. Finally, he became so poor and desperate that he actually shared seed pods for food dining with the hogs he took care of.  Broken and humiliated, he decided to return to his father and beg for a job as a hired hand. 

Luke 15 described this young man’s thinking as approached his father, “18 I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ 20 So he got up and came to his father.”

Now, the story moves to the father’s reaction when his younger son comes home. 20 But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.”  Not at all what the irresponsible son expected.  In his mind, he envisioned his dad kicking him back down the road with a furious shout of “Good riddance and don’t come back ever…you squandered the rewards of my hard work!”  However, he experienced a totally different scene.  His father had waited patiently for him to come home each day.  Before the prodigal son reached the front door his father quickly had the “best robe” made ready for him, “and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.”  Then, an amazing barbeque was prepared with a freshly slaughtered “fattened calf” the center piece.  It was such a party that it was called a “celebration.”  Why?  From his father’s viewpoint, “this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”  This lascivious living son who the father thought was dead (he had heard nothing from him) but “has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” The prodigal son could not be in a better situation humbled before his father, totally forgiven, accepted and restored in the midst of a glorious embrace from him.

H-O-W-E-V-E-R, his older brother who had continued to work diligently, responsibly and proudly for his father was intensely bitter, angry and aghast as his father received his young rebellious, irresponsible, hellion brother with such grace and mercy.  The guy had turned his back on them.  To boot, from his view, what a party was thrown for him! Why? He was a bum, unkept, plain putrid…his father’s reactions were a slap in his face, totally ridiculous and were flat out wrong.  He stated in the biblical text that his father never had done this for him. Count the number of “I’s” in the text, 29 But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends.”  Three “I’s” were proclaimed in one sentence. From his perspective, he justifiably considered himself the sole inheritor of his father’s estate.  He was so proud of himself, his stature, and what he had gotten done.  There was no forgiveness in his heart for his brother.

This story is most always focused on the Prodigal Son.  However, at the end, the storyline changes. The younger son is not the problem.  The elder son is bitter, selfish, and angry.  These feelings were embedded with unforgiveness towards his brother and will extend into the future causing strife and frustration for his father, family and the family enterprise.  There will not be oneness, community, and peace.

The reactions of the elder son are experiences found in many of our families and churches today.  There are feelings of self-righteousness and judgment without forgiveness. Grace and mercy are not to be found.  These are not at all the attitudes of our savior and Lord. “He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God!” (2 Corinthians 5:21). As the father in this story exemplifies, grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve, and mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve.  Ephesians 4:32 declares, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

At the end of the day, the “prodigal son” is fine.  He has been forgiven by his father.  The judgmental and self-righteous attitude of the older brother is a different story.  Romans 15:7 challenges each of us to Accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.”  

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