The Prodigal’s Brother
May 4th, 2016
The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is an incredibly rich treatise on grace, mercy, and reconciliation. Many can identify with the prodigal, returning to the father bankrupt and broken after wallowing in sin. We would also do well to examine ourselves for attitudes like that of the older brother, whose story is told in the last seven verses:
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
The brother’s anger appears to be rooted more in envy and resentment than anything else. He seems to envy the prodigal’s “enjoying” his sins and seems to resent his own faithfulness. There is no joy, not in his brother’s return, nor his own relationship with the father.
I saw a similar attitude the other day in a comment on an article I was reading. Someone described the message of Christianity as “behave or you’ll go to Hell”. That’s a bit like defining honesty as “I obey the law because I’m afraid of going to jail”. This kind of motivation for obedience feels both weak and shallow.
Love and gratitude are, in my opinion, far stronger and far deeper motivations for living a life of obedience. I’m reminded of the movie Saving Private Ryan. At the end, standing at the grave of a man who died to save him, Ryan wonders if he was worth the sacrifice. It’s a humbling thought, more so when we consider that the answer is no; we did not, could not, earn that sacrifice for ourselves. Rather, as Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
That kind of love converts obedience from a grudging chore into a joyful expression of gratitude. Seen in that light, it becomes natural to celebrate the return of a prodigal and share the Father’s joy.