“To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything. When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’ But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began. Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’ The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
This past week in church we talked about the parable of the prodigal son and for the first time, I saw it in a whole new light. This whole time I had been focusing so much on how I am like the youngest son who runs away and wastes all of his father’s inheritance on self-indulging things, only to realize the error in my ways and come running back home. I have always drawn the connection to how this is similar this is to us as children of God and how we only want what God can give us and when we get it we run from Him to enjoy the spoils but when the fun stops we run back to God. Fortunately for us, God always receives us back with open arms just as the father does in the story. I had never given much thought to the older brother and why Jesus even adds him into the story until recently. This parable could have easily just been about a father and one son but Jesus added in the older son for some reason.
Once you look at the older son and the way he acts in this story we can see that he is a lot like us in many ways. He adds a side of the story that is neither the rebel son nor the forgiving father. He illustrates a person in the middle who has stayed and done right but is angry and vengeful towards the wrongdoer. He acts as a vigilante for justice to be given to the younger son. I see this in myself when I allow myself to believe that it is my job to judge or give punishment to others for the wrong they have committed against my father in heaven. God is the only one who has the right to give justice when he is wronged.
If we take a deeper look at each character in that story we can see characteristics of ourselves in each of them. The younger son was tired of his responsibilities and just wanted to be free to be young and wild so he asked his father for his portion of the inheritance. In doing so he was basically saying “I don’t need you, I just want your money”. In the younger son, we see characteristics of selfishness and recklessness. Turning his back on his family was a slap in the face to his father and his family. (Sorry I couldn't help myself from jumping on this bandwagon...)
Then we have the older son who continues to work diligently for his father but as he works his resentment begins to build towards his brother. This all comes boiling over when the youngest son returns to open arms and a feast. The older son becomes livid and disowned his brother when he refers to him as “your son” and not as “my brother”. He complains that his father has never given him a feast and he had always been loyal to him. Personally, this is where I see myself in the older son. I am a very protective person when it comes to my family and the people I love so I can understand his anger against his brother. Unfortunately, he crossed the line and I do as well when I remain angry towards the other person. It is not my place to hold others accountable for their actions against someone else especially if the person that has been wronged has already forgiven the person in the first place. The father has already forgiven the youngest son and had welcomed him back into his home but the older son refused to accept that. The oldest son exhibits the characteristics of resentment and complaints saying “why not me”. Lastly, the father in this story illustrates divine forgiveness and unconditional love. Even when his son ran away from the family and his responsibilities the father not only let him back into the house but ran to him, embraced him, gave him the best robe, hosted a celebration for his return. The father instantly forgives him of all wrongdoings. The father also didn’t get angry at the older son when he was angry at how the father acted toward the return of the youngest son. This is a wonderful example of love and forgiveness that we should take note of and attempt to be like in the future.
My question is this… Who are you in the story? The rebel son who has returned home, the protective and resentful son who is angry, or the loving and forgiving father who welcomes the son back with no reservations? I think we are all of them at some point and we exhibit each of their characteristics at some point in our lives but the goal is to be as much like the father as possible.