I’ve always identified more with the Older Brother than with the Prodigal Son.
Don’t stone me yet. I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’ve never thought the Older Brother perfect. I know he said he’d done everything the Father ever asked, but I’ve never quite believed that. He had to slip up sometimes. Besides, he clearly had some severe “heart issues.”
I know theologians say the Older Brother represents the Pharisees, and heaven knows I don’t want to be a Pharisee.
And I have one decided difference from the Older Brother: I have always been glad whenever anyone comes to the Father.
But I used to wonder if it were wrong for me to relate more to the Older Brother, and then I heard an elderly lady teach Sunday School. She said, “I believe we can all find ourselves somewhere in this story.” And she made an interesting point. The Bible never specifies whether the Older Brother came to his senses. Because the story may have a different ending for every “older brother.”
(For anyone who might have stumbled across this post and wonders who on earth I’m talking about, see Luke 15:11-32.)
I think both brothers had the same problem.
Neither of them really knew their father.
I mean, they sort of knew he was kind and gentle. After all, it shows a lot of nerve for the Younger Son to go to his father and say, “Give me my portion of the inheritance.” In effect saying, “I’d just as soon you were dead because the only thing I care about is your money, not you.”
And the Father didn’t rebuke him! He just counted up his assets, gave the Younger Son his portion in cash, and let the young man pack up and take off.
Huh? What kind of father does that?
The Younger Son didn’t realize what kind of father he had until he’d spent all his money and found himself wishing he could eat pigs’ food because he was so hungry.
Then it occurred to him that he would do better to go back and ask his father to take him as a hired servant.
Now you might expect the Younger Son to give up the idea at once because wouldn’t his father be more likely to spit in his face than even take him as a servant? But apparently the Younger Son knew his father enough to decide the venture was worthwhile.
And we all know how it ends. With the most beautiful picture of love you could ask for. The Father sees his wayward son in the distance and runs to meet him. In a culture where respect for parents was paramount, this Father disregards what others would call dignity and runs to welcome the insolent brat who left home years ago.
Doesn’t everyone want that kind of love?
See, I was raised on the Bible by good, loving parents. And I’m not ashamed or unhappy about that. I’m thankful that I decided to follow Jesus at an early age. It’s saved me a lot of scars that I know I’d have otherwise.
I’ve never done the things associated with “Prodigal Son” behavior.
And I know sin is sin. It’s like leprosy. Doesn’t matter if you have one open sore or twenty. The disease is gonna kill you sooner or later if you don’t get treatment.
I got my “treatment” early, before the disease of sin had left visible scars. I came to the Father’s house, and it’s a good place to call home. The Father is kind and gentle, and I love Him. I’m well provided for, and I have worthwhile work to do.
But Jesus said, “To whom much is given, from him much will be required.” (Luke 12:48) Surely I have been given much. Surely it is my duty to work hard for the Father’s kingdom.
And when the “prodigals” come home, I rejoice and am glad with them because the Father’s love and mercy are so wondrous. How can I not delight in seeing it on display?
Yet deep inside me, a tiny little part of me wonders if that kind of love is for me too. I mean, I know my Father loves me, but my conversion wasn’t like that. My past isn’t like that. Grace hauled me out of a miry pit of a child’s pride and selfishness, not a pit of drugs and fornication. (Granted, we know the former is really one with the latter, but still.)
So I try to be a good “older brother,” but sometimes I still feel like I’m on the outskirts, not the center of the Father’s love.
But the Father loved the Older Brother too.
When the Older Brother was being pig-headed, standing outside the house and refusing to join the celebration for his younger brother’s homecoming, the Father didn’t leave him standing there alone. He didn’t even send a servant to say, “Get in here and act like a son of mine should.”
No, he went out to his oldest son.
Just as he ran to his foolish younger son, he stepped away from his place as host of the celebration and went to talk to his foolish older son.
And in the midst of the older son’s complaints about how good he’s been and how the wicked younger son doesn’t deserve to have the fatted calf killed for him, I have always been fascinated by one line. The Older Son complains, “You never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.” (Luke 15:29)
I always think, “Did you ever ask?”
This is the Father who gave the Younger Son his inheritance prematurely. Did the Older Brother really think the Father would say no if he asked for a young goat?
Looks like the Older Brother was just as big a fool as the Younger.
But what did the Father say in return to his oldest son’s objections?
“Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.” (Luke 15:31)
All that he has. The Father didn’t say, “It will be yours.” He said, “It is yours.”
The Father’s estate belonged to the Older Brother. But instead of taking on the quiet, glad confidence of a good landowner, it seems like he’d been working with a sullen attitude all these years. When all the Father had was his.
So that means all my Father has is mine too.
All the riches of His love and grace and peace, courage and hope and strength, all of His blessings; they are mine. If I’ll just accept them and use them. If I’ll just go to the Father and say, “May I have some?” Do I really think He’s gonna refuse me?
Look at what else the Father said: “Son, you are always with me.”
Day in and day out. The Older Brother could have had the most special relationship that a son ever had with a father. Yet he didn’t because he didn’t appreciate his father. Oh, he was a dutiful son, always trying to obey, whether for the right reasons or not.
Yet he didn’t truly know his father, didn’t have the loving relationship that was his for the asking.
That loving relationship with my Father that I crave, it’s mine for the asking.
Sure, it’s good that I complete my work in His kingdom. It’s good that I obey His commandments. But I’m also invited to “come away by myself” with Him. To truly know Him and love Him, and receive the love He so richly lavishes on His children. Because I’m His child too, just like the “prodigals.” He loves each of us.
And, just for the record, the Older Brother was probably a lot closer to perfect than I am. One thing about coming to Christ so young is that I’ve discovered new temptations after my conversion. I’ve struggled with the fact that I’ve succumbed to my “worst” sins after I chose to follow Jesus.
But the Father still loves me.
That isn’t going to change.
So, for all the “good Christian church kids” who might somehow feel that our testimonies aren’t as good, or even that God loves His other children more than us, that’s nonsense. It really is. Our Father has everlasting lovingkindness to lavish on us. And He invites us to experience it.
Brothers and sisters, it doesn’t matter when or how we came to follow Christ. We make distinctions between ourselves that God never does. All that matters to Him is that we come. He really loves us. The Father loves all His children.