When I was growing up, I was a younger sister, but I always felt like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. My older brother was always pushing the limits as far as what he should and should not do, and my overactive sense of justice always wanted him to be held accountable. I never quite understood why the older brother in this parable was corrected by his father, (Luke 15:25-32) because I thought he, the brother, was right. Why should the son who caused all the trouble get the party when the one trying to consistently do the right thing is seemingly forgotten? The answer is that the prodigal’s older brother, and I, did not understand grace.
Let’s take a minute to look at the context of this parable. At the beginning of the chapter, (Luke 15:1-2) the Pharisees were complaining that Jesus was welcoming sinners and sharing meals with them. In response, Jesus told three parables: of the lost sheep, (Luke 15:3-7) of the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10) and of the prodigal son. (Luke 15:11-32) All of them were intended to show the joy of our Heavenly Father when a lost soul is redeemed. After all, it is sinners that God sent His son to redeem. (Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31, John 3:17) But the parable of the prodigal son goes a step further. This parable also addresses the attitude of the older brother, which was the same as the attitude of the Pharisees. The prodigal son was lost because of his own bad choices, which he soon realized, but the older brother was lost and didn’t even know it. He was self-righteous and full of pride. He did what he was supposed to do, but what were his motives? He was looking for his father’s approval of his works, rather than accepting his father’s unconditional love.
I find it sad that when the older brother came in from the field and heard the festivities inside the house, he didn’t even guess that his brother may have come home. He had to ask a servant what the noise was all about. He certainly hadn’t been watching for his brother’s return, and he refused to celebrate it. He found no joy in what pleased his father, but rather wallowed in his own selfishness. Wouldn't it be great if we could display abundant grace, mercy and forgiveness to the lost souls in our circles? If they are willing to show the humility that the prodigal son showed, let us share our Father’s joy and welcome them home.
Stay tuned for Part 3, next week. I've saved the best news for last.
Most people go through a rebellious stage at some point. For many it is in their teenage years, or when they go away to college. It usually represents their fight for independence, or their search for their own identity. The length of the rebellious period varies according to the person. I once had a grade eight student whose rebellious period lasted two weeks. She had been one of my more mature students, until she decided to experiment with a new personality. She became rude, uncooperative and insulting. I was surprised, saddened and annoyed. Thankfully at the end of those two weeks, she was back to her sweet, good-natured self, and I was glad for her return.
Luke 15:11-32 tells the story of a much more involved rebellion. It is the parable of the prodigal son. Many translations call this the story of the lost son, or the wayward son, which would also be an accurate representation of the person in question, but a more accurate synonym for the word prodigal would be wasteful. Oxford American Dictionaries defines prodigal as “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant”.
The prodigal son, the younger of two, boldly asks his father for his inheritance, and then goes as far away as he can get from family responsibility and accountability. He wants to make his own decisions and live his life his way, but his short-sighted choices and some unforeseen circumstances produce a desperate situation. He finds himself with nothing left when there is a famine in the land. He stoops about as low as a Jewish boy can go when he starts tending pigs for a foreigner. He realizes that he could have tended flocks and herds for his father and been treated much better. Oh how the perspective of experience can change one’s view of things! The independence he had asked for so that he didn’t have to live under his father’s authority he was now more than willing to give up so that he could live under his father’s blessings. For even if he were only a servant in his father’s household, he would be much better off than facing starvation to the point of wanting the pigs’ food and not even being able to have that. Again he had a choice to make. This time he chose humility, and went back to his father. Thankfully for him, his father was glad of his return and welcomed him back not as a servant, but as a son.
You will have noticed that this parable starts with Jesus saying that “A man had two sons.” (Luke 15:11) Next week, I will look at the other son, the older brother. The following week, I will examine the father’s reaction to them both.