I’ve got older brothers and I am an older brother. I’ve had them since the day I was born and been one physically since I was 4 and spiritually since I was 8. I can’t count the number of sermons, articles and classes I’ve had streamed into my consciousness over the last 50 years. This story is powerful on so many levels. Charles Dickens says it is the greatest short story ever written. You know, that Parable of the Prodigal Son. And while there is absolute power in seeing the story from the vantage point of the younger brother finally penitent in the pig pin - I love and relate to the words “he came to himself.” Or from the dad I think it was V.P. Black who I first heard say: “How many days had that dad looked longingly across the horizon hoping this day might be the day his son would come home.” The one side we least seem to hear of the story is the actual story that Jesus was telling. And I suspicion I miss it because I don’t like it. Yes, you read that right. What is there not to love about the Father’s love, forgiveness, mercy, restoration, grace? Who cannot relate to the son’s sin, selfishness, submission and salvation? But more often than I care to admit I’ve been the older brother... The Prodigal Son from The older brother’s prospective:
He was a faithful son. There is no doubt about that. We impugn his motives to make it clear that we are not him. But the text, the father nor the Lord ever call his dedication or faithfulness or motives into question. If you’ve ever been the older brother maybe you can relate:
“I can’t believe he has the nerve to come back.” “I knew this would happen when he left.” “He slapped dad in the face when he left, if he thinks he gets off scott free with this little song and dance, rehearsed speech he’s got another thing coming to him.” “I love dad and I won’t put up with you treating him that way.” “Dad may be all sentimental but not me! No way I’m going to let you steal from him twice.” “Dad spent a lifetime building his reputation and our good name has been strong for generations, you’ve drug the family name through the mud.” “You’ve already had your inheritance, now you’re taking mine.” “All I’ve done is been a faithful son...let him prove himself...then maybe, and I emphasize maybe I’ll give him a chance.”
But that’s not how the story goes is it?
“Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. 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; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found’” (Luke 15:25-32).
It is not easy to be the older brother like Jesus taught. We too want to put all sorts of safeguards and stipulations in place - but who said it was going to be easy?
To receive such grace the younger brother MUST come home. But to get grace the older brother must also learn then to give it. Perhaps the key is to remember on those occasions when you are playing the role of the older brother what it felt like when you were in the role of the younger one.