I’m still reading the Bible through in 6 months. Yay! For the Old Testament part, I just finished up reading about the distribution of the Promised Land to the Israelites. For a brief moment in time, they had peace from all their enemies. Hallelujah!
I’m in Luke now for the New Testament part. I’m up to chapter 15 of Luke. This chapter is filled with parables – lost sheep, lost coin, and lastly, the lost son. This is where you find the parable of the prodigal son.
We all know the story. A father has two sons. The younger son demands his inheritance early and goes off to spend it living the high life. When his money runs out – and probably his friends, too – a famine has struck the land. He begins to hunger. Desperate, he charms a local farmer into hiring him. He ended up feeding pigs. I’m sure his kosher soul shuddered at the thought. But still, he had no food. Even the pigs’ food looked good to him!
Realizing his mistake, (v. 17), he decides to humble himself before his father and take his lumps. He even plans what to 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” (v. 18).
The Bible says his father saw him from a long way off. He was watching for his younger son’s return; he knew his boy and that the money wouldn’t last with his spendthrift ways. He runs to his boy, hugs and kisses him. The younger son says his piece but his father ignores him: “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” (v. 22-23). In a blink of an eye, the younger son goes from starving, homeless and penniless to a position of honor, crowned with love and favor and much rejoicing.
Really, the story should end here, I think. All’s well that ends well, right?
But it doesn’t.
The older brother was working (v. 25). He returns from the field and has no idea what’s going on. He asks a servant, who fills him in on his brother’s sudden return. The older brother is instantly enraged (v. 28) and won’t join the party. His father tries to intervene, begging him. His reply? “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me. 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” (v.29-30).
Whoa. The jealousy and hatred were right under the surface.
The father replies with characteristic grace: “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!” (v.31-32).
That’s the end of the story.
We never find out if the older son went into the banquet and embraced his brother or wept at his homecoming. Instead, we’re left wondering what the older brother thought. “Where is *my* feast? When do I get honored for years of unswerving devotion? Where is the love?” Why did the older brother stay working for his father? Out of obligation? Lack of options? Fear? Indecisiveness? Was it truly out of love?
This story, in my mind, ties back to Rev. 3:15-16. Jesus has just chastised a church for being lukewarm, and says he will “vomit” them out. He wishes they were either hot or cold. The older brother ahs been “lukewarm” towards his duty for years and years. In these tough circumstances, his true motives were revealed. The younger brother at least was honest about his feelings and acted accordingly.
We’re no different. Why do we go to church? Why do we serve our families and others? Why do we continue to participate in church ministries, year after year? What are our motives? I’m not advocating running away from our commitments or our life with God. Sure, sometimes our love is…lacking. If we press in to Jesus, He will fill us anew. So, I ask you, who was truly lost in this parable? I think the older brother was lost long ago and he never even left home.