In the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” found in Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells the story of a man who has two sons. The younger son tells his father to give him his portion of the family estate as an early inheritance.
Typically, a son would receive his inheritance at the time of his father’s death. The fact that the younger brother demanded his early division of the family estate showed a rebellious and proud disregard for his father’s authority, not to mention a selfish and immature attitude.
Once the son receives his inheritance, he promptly sets off on a long journey to a distant land and begins to waste his inheritance on wild living. But after the money runs out, a severe famine hits the country and the son suddenly finds himself in dire circumstances. Times get so hard that he even takes a job feeding pigs. He is so destitute that he even longs to eat the food assigned to the pigs. Pigs are unclean animals; so when this son took a job feeding pigs, (Even wanting to eat the garbage he was feeding them) it reveals that he had fallen as low as he could possibly go.
The young man finally comes to his senses, remembering his father and all that he had there. In humility, he recognizes his foolishness and decides to return to his father and ask for forgiveness and mercy, hoping to only become his father’s servant.
Unknown to this son, his father had been patiently praying, watching and waiting for his son’s return home. The father is so overjoyed by the return of his lost son that he receives him back with open arms of compassion. Immediately the father turns to his servants and asks them to prepare a grand celebration feast in honor of this son.
Meanwhile, the older son is not one bit happy when he comes in from a hard day of working in the fields to discover a party going on to celebrate his younger brother’s return. The father tries to dissuade the older brother from his jealous anger explaining, “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”
To most of us, it’s easy to view ourselves as the prodigal son. We all know enough about loss, about decisions made that led to a trail of ruin and heartache. We know what it’s like to wake up one day and realize that we have wandered far from God, how we’ve wasted our lives and what it’s like to feel lost and unable to be found. Yearning for God’s love, we replayed our life over and over in our heads thinking: “Where did I go wrong?” And like the younger son, we hope beyond hope for another chance to get it right—Another chance to start again.
This is one of Jesus’ longest parables. And because Jesus doesn’t explain the parables’ meaning, the parable lends itself to many interpretations. Many sermons have been preached on how the older brother represents legalistic Christians who have lost the love of God and the joy of serving Him.
But I must confess that I sometimes relate more to the older brother in the story. I have watched other Christians squander what God has blessed them with as they flippantly live and speak as if they belong to the world.
Most of my Christian life I have only wanted to use my talents to serve God. Not to gain favor with God or become popular within Christian circles, but because I truly love Him so much that I want to do all I can to serve only Him. But more times than not, I have not been allowed the opportunity to do that. So when I see half-hearted Christians being blessed so much, like the older brother, I sometimes feel cheated too. But I’m still learning and growing, so try not to be too hard on me.
Most Christians would not admit to relating to the older brother. But I think if the truth were told, our churches are full of older brothers. That’s why we need to get to a new level of repentance, a new level of renewal. We need to repent of trying to get control of God. We need to re-examine the reasons for our wanting to do good. Otherwise there will be no renewal.
The older brother reacted the way many of us react when we feel cheated by God. (Myself included) When the reality is that if we have truly repented and been saved by God through Jesus, how can we even think we have been cheated? We have everything we could ever hope for–eternal life with our heavenly Father.
The father in the parable represents our Heavenly Father. God waits patiently, with loving compassion to restore us when we return to him with humble hearts. He offers us everything in his kingdom, restoring a full relationship with joyful celebration. He doesn’t even dwell on our past waywardness.
The older brother in the parable should have welcomed his younger brother back with open arms just like his father did—even though it cost him half of his inheritance. That’s the kind of love God desires us to have for others.
It is not up to us to decide who receives God’s blessings because he blesses those he chooses to. (Romans 9:18) So I will put away my jealousy and take my seat at my father’s table—Next to my younger brother!