Everyone knows the story of the Prodigal son, right?
It’s pretty common in pop culture – even if you’ve never been to a church or, heck, even known a church-goer – you know this story. Dude takes his inheritance, before his father is even dead (how’s that for arrogance?) – runs off, blows his money, looking for love in all the wrong places, and winds up feeding pigs. Then he comes to his senses, realizes that his father treats the lowest of his servants better than this lousy pig owner is treating him, goes home (probably expecting the mother of all talking-tos, no less), only to have his father throw a party for him. (see for context)
Oh, and there’s a little bit about his brother, and jealousy.
But – this is all about God’s love for us, and how we can just run off, do what we want, and come back, and he’ll be thrilled to have us home, right?
Not so fast.
Let’s have a quick look at the other brother.
What happens with him? He sees his rash, younger brother ask for all his inheritance, and then run off into the world, with all the wisdom of an 18-year-old college student on a bender. The older brother, on the other hand, stays home, continues to work for his father, knowing full well that he is earning every last penny of his inheritance, and not running around like a little whelp. But then his brother returns! And with it, there is much celebrating and fanfare. And it’s not fair. He’s been loyal this whole time, with hardly ever a young goat to celebrate with, yet his father kills the best possible entree for his wretched brother?
He’s expecting wrath. He’s expecting a tirade from his father upon his brother – wailing and gnashing of teeth. Instead, he sees grace. He doesn’t know his father. He’s expecting the gift of his inheritance will come from his good works, and not from the grace and love of his Father. And when he sees his brother sinning, and filthy, and stinking of pigs, and yet, still celebrated and welcomed home, he grows resentful.
“Were my good works not enough, Father? Did I not please you with my actions?”
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11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 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.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (ESV)