25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’ 28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 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. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ 31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 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!’”
So often when we look at the parable of the prodigal we focus in on the younger rebellious son and not the seemingly obedient older brother. Yet when the younger brother came home and the day of celebration came there was one empty chair. The one alongside the robe covered prodigal that belonged to the elder brother. This son was the one who stayed out of trouble and took the work of the Father seriously. He lived by rules, working hard on the ranch, and that day coming in from the fields he heard the commotion and the music that filled the air. He learned that his baby brother, the one they thought was lost was finally home. One would have expected him to respond with relief and rejoicing, yet he responded as if his life had been ruined. Instead of a heart felt reunion he refused to join in the rejoicing. Instead of thanksgiving there was a temper tantrum. Instead of rejoicing there was only resentment, because he had been the one who had to be responsible while his younger brother was reckless. He was the one who had to bear the brunt of the work and the burden back home while his brother irresponsibly squandered the inheritance. Why would they throw a party for the prodigal and not for him? After all partying was all his brother had done but something he had never gotten to do. It’s at this point that the Father leaves the party to plead with the son. This begging was more than he could bear, and like a bursting dam out flowed all of his feelings. Out flows the anger and the animosity, rivers of resentment flow toward his father for not giving him the same treatment. He was repulsed by the rejoicing and refused to go in. Here was a brother who had not forgotten and would not forgive. So here is the question, how can a brother who has been so blessed become so bitter and ungrateful? If anyone should have been content surely it would have been the older brother. This story is a slap in the face of our consumer culture that tells us happiness depends on having. The irony here is that doing all the right things, and possessing all the benefits of the estate are not guarantees for a grateful heart. Instead of praising he chose pouting and as you look closer at the exchange between father and son you see several things that point to a hardened heart plagued with ingratitude. Why was this brother thankless, first he was:
- Performance Driven
The older sons response to his father pleading was to point out all that he had done, “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.” His statement reveals the real reason for his lack joy. Not only did the older brother mark time, but he tracked behavior. Performance driven people don’t just poison their lives, but they also ruin the relationships they have with others. We hold others hostage to our expectations, demanding them to perform and live according to our preferences. We don’t just set the bar for ourselves we also expect others to clear it. Why do I say that performance poisons, because its motive is always about me. He wasn’t living to please the Father he was performing to benefit self. His performance wasn’t based in a deep love for the Father but because he wanted recognition. He would have been happy if the party had been thrown for him, but when it wasn’t instead of being happy he was hurt. When you find yourself bitter because others are being blessed you might want to check your heart. His performance driven life led to a feeling of entitlement, he believed that performance should lead to pay offs. But here is the deal you can’t buy blessings; it’s not mercy if it involves your merit. No amount of good will ever get you grace. While the father was motivated by grace the son was motivated by a grudge. Not only was he performance driven but he was also:
- Possessions Blind
In verse 31 the father reminds the son, “Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours.” The older brother may have had everything but he still felt the need for more. How like us in our consumer culture, constantly chase after the carrot but never catching it. Always consuming yet never content. Here was the older brother heir to all the possessions yet pouting over one party. How many are miss their share of happiness today, not because they haven’t found it, but because they haven’t stopped to enjoy it. If anyone should have been happy it was the older brother, he not only had the praise of the Father he also had all that the Father possessed. So why was he so upset over the party thrown for the prodigal? Because from his perspective his brother deserved punishment not praise. Here was a man that chose to look at life through the lens of fairness instead of the lens of the Father. His father provided a proper perspective in verse 32, “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!’” Because he refused to look at life from the Fathers perspective he remained mad and ended up missed the miracle of new life. Focusing on what is fair according to me will always move me towards madness and away from mercy. Not only did he miss the miracle but he missed the whole point of mercy. Mercy has nothing to do with man’s merit and everything to do with the Fathers forgiveness. How about you are you moved more by mercy or being mad? Grace is about God’s goodness not man’s good works. Here was a son who possessed all of the Fathers fortune yet none of His forgiveness; he may have gotten his father’s livelihood but he didn’t get his love. How like us, we get so busy with the business that we miss the blessing. What about you are you focusing on the Father or what you think is fair? Are you going to fuss over what is fair and miss the most important party of your life? Many of us today have chosen to live in the madness of resentment and anger instead of the freedom of forgiveness and mercy. Are you going to be ruled by the Father or your feelings of fairness?