Throughout the course of my life, I’ve read and heard it dozens upon dozens of times, The Parable of the Prodigal Son.
You have two sons. One older and responsible. One younger and wild. The younger takes his inheritance early, goes out into the world, blows all his money partying, and finds himself destitute and starving. But he wises up, realizes his father’s servants have more food and comfort than he does and heads back home. His plan is simple, admit his sin and live as one of his father’s servants, but when he gets close to home his father, who I’m sure has been sick with worry (if you’re a parent you know), sees him coming and runs out to greet him. And he doesn’t just greet him, he throws him a party to end all parties. He gives him robes and jewels and kills the fatted calf. There’s music and dancing . . . “party” is kind of an understatement. Meanwhile, big bro, the responsible one, comes in from the fields and sees this going on, and he. is. furious. I mean steaming. He has a little tantrum . . . refuses to come in. Points out to his father that he’s the good one. And up to this point he’s never even given him a goat (which y’all if I’m asking for anything, it ain’t a goat), and the father says, “Kiddo, it’s all yours. It always has been. But your brother was lost and is found, and we have to celebrate.” Not much was said about the older brother from that point, but I feel like he was at least appeased, went in, and life went on for everyone. (This is the Courtney’s Contemplations version of this parable. The actual version can be found in Luke 15:11-32. )
As I said in the beginning, I’ve read or heard this parable countless times. And two things were always the focus. First, the younger brother, he’s the picture of “I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see . . . “*. Words written years later by another prodigal, slave trader John Newton, who found salvation and redemption at the foot of the cross. He is all of us, lost without Jesus, and the father is our Heavenly Father, celebrating each of us that comes into His kingdom. But second, the older brother, he’s typically vilified . . . what a spoiled brat? I mean . . . am I right?
Only, as I was reading this parable again, very recently, the thought that came to me was “I get it. I relate to the older brother. I probably would’ve felt the same way.” I even wrote “relatable???” off to the side in my bible. Of course, that was immediately followed by that least favorite of feelings that still pops up from time to time . . . shame. How could I relate to the selfish older brother? How absolutely shameful. I mean no he didn’t burn all his inheritance with a life of utter debauchery, but he was such an entitled brat. He was unforgiving and selfish in his own right. How could I relate to that?
But God . . . I’m so thankful for those two, very common, words in my life.
But God, in that moment, in His graciousness and mercy, through the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart. The older son wasn’t put in this parable to be shame inducing (God is not in the shame business) nor was he just a side note. God knew, God knows, that some of us are that older brother. That we work and strive (which y’all that’s always us trying to earn our way to God rather than leaning on His mercy and grace . . . it’s wrong and unattainable in its own right), and He knew that often, in doing that we will feel hurt, marginalized, unnoticed.
If you go back to the father’s response in Luke 15:31-32, “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’ “, you’ll notice, the father doesn’t lecture him. He doesn’t call him and entitled, selfish brat (those were my thoughts). He just says, “It’s all yours. It always has been.” The unspoken words there? “All you have to do is ask.” And in reading that again, I realized that the older brother is far more than just a minor character in this.
Some of us will relate to the prodigal, but some of us will most definitely relate to the older brother. And Jesus knew that. Jesus knew some of us would, from a very young age, give our hearts to Him and walk with Him and grow throughout our lives with Him, and that’s very good. All that He has has always been ours, but those that are lost and seeking and filling their lives with everything but the right thing, when they return, when they come to Jesus, we absolutely should kill the fatted calf. We absolutely should celebrate. Every life saved is worth celebrating. And every prodigal that returns should be met with joy. Because it is no small thing.
It took me weeks to write this. Weeks to wrestle with the fact that I relate far more to the older brother than the younger son. Weeks to be willing to admit that in written word. Weeks to realize that God, my Father, knew all this from the very beginning. He created me. He gets me. And so yes, I relate to the older brother, and maybe you do too . . . or maybe you relate more to the prodigal . . . regardless of where you land, He loves you, He wants you, and all that He has is yours.
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* Amazing Grace, John Newton, 1772