Today, as we wrap up our discussion on the prodigal son, we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the older brother. You can almost imagine what it felt like, after a long day of work in the fields, for this responsible man to come home and find his dad throwing a huge party. He’s expecting to go inside, clean up, and settle in, not have a celebration! How much worse for him, then, when he realized that the fattened calf had been killed…for his brother. His rebellious younger “bro,” who squandered his dad’s money on booze and prostitutes, came home and was being treated like a king. Apparently this was too much for him to bear, so he lashed out at his father, articulately expressing the injustice he felt had been done to him. If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to sympathize with this man’s plight and the depth of his emotion at this inequality, except for one thing in the story we often miss…
When his embittered brother refers to his rebellious sibling as “this son of yours,” it indicates that he has disowned him. However, in those days, culturally speaking, it would have been his job as the older brother to go after the younger one. Living in his father’s household and having a brother who had left home put the responsibility of bringing him “back into the fold” on him. In a way, the father “threw it back” at his son when he referred to him as “this brother of yours.” Reading between the lines, it’s almost as if the older brother relished it when the prodigal son left; like he needed his younger brother to be a sinner so he could be proud of his own righteousness. Interestingly, that’s where the story ends and Jesus looks right at the Pharisees as he says it!
Friend, I want to encourage you not to be like the older or younger brothers in this story, but rather, to be like the father. Don’t mess up so that grace can abound, and don’t harbor bitterness towards those to whom it is shown. Instead, be the one who gives it. With a heart securely grounded in the Savior’s household, go and seek after the lost. Don’t wander off to a distant land or live full of self-righteousness, but be at home with Jesus. Rest in His presence and be filled with His power so you can extend overflowing, agape love to those around you!