The Prodigal’s Brother

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The more I hear people talk about the Prodigal Son story, the more fascinated I am by each character: the Father and his relentless and endlessly forgiving love, the prodigal and his foolishness and humble return, the older brother and his…well, his trust issues. I can find myself in all three characters. I know that we’re supposed to love people like this extravagant father-of-the-prodigal: expecting nothing, anticipating redemption, and ready to forgive and reinstate into our hearts. That’s a scary call, and one I need help with.

I find myself in the futile attempt the prodigal made of gaining an early inheritance, instead of wanting to patiently wait and work.

And, as a girl who has a pretty uneventful testimony in the world’s eyes, I find myself often in the older brother’s bitter hesitation and appetite for vengeance and “justice”. But just recently I’ve realized the older brother might have something else going on, under the radar, and it’s rooted in trust. Here’s a reminder of the older brother’s main scene in the story:

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 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.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brotherwas dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” Luke 15:25-32

Now before we go further, it might be important to note that the older brother has seven verses dedicated to his portion of the story, while the prodigal’s portion is actually only five verses before he repents. This isn’t just the story of the prodigal son. I think it’s a story of two sons. The prodigal, and the pious. The older brother is religious in every way. He performs, he outworks everyone else, he labors hard and long and treads carefully so that he will have his inheritance at the end. Both sons want the inheritance. And perhaps we can safely assume that both sons have trust issues with their extravagantly good Father. The prodigal mistrusts his share in the inheritance and demands it early, the pious son mistrusts his father’s word and works hard enough to show everyone else around him how “worthy” of an inheritance he truly is.

Religion, my own “religious” ways of earning God’s attention, favor, and promotion are always rooted in striving (notice verse 25 says that the older son was in the field, long after all the servants had retreated back to the house for dancing and music.) And religion in me always stems from mistrust that God really is good, and will really do what He promises.  This son must have questioned his own father’s word, and when he sees how his dad treats his runaway brother, Luke 15:28 tells us he becomes angry, and obstinate, and refuses to join in the party. Why? I think because he thinks his father won’t be consistent, and that there is only so much love his father can show, and the prodigal is taking all of it.

I act that way with the Lord sometimes. Seeing people I know come back to the Lord after a season of walking away, and seeing how He blesses them and reinstates them and loves on them produces a disgusting jealousy in me, and also fear. I am afraid that God only has so much kindness to bestow. HELLO! He is God! His kindness knows no end! If anything, the way the older brother’s father was treating his rebellious brother should have encouraged the older brother! It should have brought him such joy in thinking, “If my Dad is that gracious to him, that means he surely will be gracious to me!” When God is generous to undeserving people, (which always includes me, but religion usually makes me assume I deserve it in some sick, twisted way), I should be so happy! It shows His character! God is good. He can’t help Himself. He has to be who He is. And He is good. Psalm 33 says the earth is FULL of the loving-kindness of God!

If only that older brother and I could talk, I’d tell him about our mutual trust issue. I’d tell him to not give up trusting that our Father IS good. He will not refuse us. He will not forget us. And together we’d say this verse: “Indeed, the LORD watches those who fear him; those who trust in his gracious love.” Psalm 33:18


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