We’ve all probably heard about the prodigal son .. Jesus told this parable as recorded in Luke 15. I’ve often wondered about the older brother and his attitude. Jesus usually had a character represent God, and a character represent us. In this story, the father was representing God, and the prodigal son represented us. The prodigal son’s older brother throws a proverbial wrench into the system.
Thinking about it, Jesus could have ended the story with the father forgiving the prodigal son and acknowledging that he was happy that he returned. I personally believe that the story has more to do with the older brother than the prodigal.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 15:25-31; New International Version
When reading through the story, I relate to the older brother. He is justified (IMO) of his attitude. Christ is attempting to help his listeners understand God’s heart though.
The father is telling the older son that he has missed the big picture all along. The older son thought that he had to be obedient and work hard to EARN the right to be a true son and gain inheritance, but the father told him that he was missing what was truly important. He was a true son all along. He earned the right to his inheritance because HE WAS his son. It wasn’t what he did, but who he was.
Jesus – the master storyteller – knew exactly what he was doing. He grabbed the attention of his listeners by telling stories that they would all agree with, then hit them from another angle. All of them would agree that the son was completely wrong in taking his inheritance, that the father was justified in being upset over the squandering of the money. None of them would see what was coming though. None would be expecting the father’s grace and mercy. How anyone can believe that this story did not come out of the mouth of God’s son walking the earth is something I don’t understand. it is absolutely brilliant.
Back to the story. We are sons of God once we have become believers. Our works and obeying will not do anything to help us obtain more love from God, nor give us the right to receive inheritance. We are His sons because we believe in Him, and Christ’s work on the cross. Our works and obedience is because of who He is, not to gain any favor.