“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.’”
The last section of the parable spotlights the older son. While we often think about this as the parable of the prodigal son, we sometimes miss that there are two sons in the story – and both of them are in need of grace. The older brother was out of the spotlight while the younger brother was restored. Coming in from the fields, he heard the celebration and asked for an explanation. The news of his brother’s return and the ongoing party made the older son angry. He expressed his anger by refusing to be a part of the celebration; he didn’t want to go, nor did he want to speak to his brother.
The older son was jealous of his brother. The older son had been faithful to their father, while his brother ran off and was still being honored. The older son wanted the gifts of the father as well, and felt he deserved them. Grace, though, is not something we deserve; by definition, grace is impossible to earn. Grace is about trusting and receiving. The older brother did not receive the restoration that was offered to him, because he did not think he needed it.
Self-righteousness is a dangerous sin. If allowed to run its course, it convinces us that we don’t need God. The elder brother is the poster child for self-righteousness. We need to constantly examine our attitudes, for an elder brother attitude can develop in each of us. Battling against becoming self-righteous is a constant struggle.
The lesson for us is that sometimes those who seem closest to God are the ones we need to invest in and invite into a relationship with God. Because we are so pleased with ourselves, we sometimes miss all that the Father is doing.
- Why was the older son upset with his father? Why did he refer to himself as a slave? What does this tell us about him?
- How did the father offer grace to the older son as well? What does this teach us about God?
- Pray that you would see that the righteous need God’s love just as much as the sinner.