22 “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. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 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. 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 far the parable that Jesus has been sharing with the Pharisees has focused on the father and the prodigal son but now in verse 25 we are introduced to the older and seemingly more pious son. This is the son that the Pharisees would have approved of, he was responsible and hardworking, he was the son that followed the rules. Yet what we discover is that while he was good at following the rules he also had a rift in his relationship with the father. When confronted with the celebration over his brother’s return we discover that the pious older brother was really a pouting person. It’s the father’s party that reveals his real heart, and while we may be tempted to admire his hard work we also have to recognize his hard and unforgiving heart. At first it’s the prodigal son who appears to have the problem, but when we chose to look at the attitudes as well as the actions we quickly discover that both sons had a hard heart problem. While the younger son had a possession problem the older son had a pride problem. While the younger sons heart problem was lived out in a lifestyle of rebellion the older sons was seen in a self-righteousness attitude. The older son served the father faithfully his whole life, but it was out of a sense of duty not desire. He was driven by rules instead of relationship, obligation instead of a heart of obedience. Like many of us he made it about followed a list instead of loving the father. While he never left his home physically, it’s clear that he had a dysfunctional relationship with his father as well as his brother. The older son represents religious people, those who while they may not have sinned against God by running off to pursue a rebellious life are participating in a prideful and pouting life instead of a life of praise. These are the Pharisees who have reduced a righteous life to that of following the rules and warming a pew. Who when it comes to really celebrating what God is doing in the lives of others, refuse to rejoice. These are the party poopers, and I wonder what percentage of God’s family fall into this category? It’s easy to see the rebels but do we see the self-righteous? I am convinced that there are probably more critical “older brother” Christians in the church than there are those guilty of the younger son’s sin. It’s here in Luke 15 that we see two things:
- The Characteristics of a Pouting Son.
After working hard all day in the fields, the older brother arrived at his house to hear the sound of music and celebration. When he inquired as to what was going on he learns that the party was in celebration of his younger brother’s return. It’s at this point that he became angry and refused to join in the joy, choosing resentment over rejoicing. In his attitude and angry statements we see several common characteristics of a pouting prodigal starting first with:
- An angry spirit of grumbling
Verse 28 tells us that he became angry, in fact the word used indicates that he flew into a rage. Instead of rejoicing with his brother he resented him, choosing instead to protest the party with an attitude of anger. But this was not righteous anger it was resentful anger. When his father came out to plead with him to participate in the party, he began to grumble and complain. Saying, “I’ve never left home and spent all my money on prostitutes, and you’ve never even killed a little goat for me!” It’s the pity party, poor me mentality. Why didn’t he join in the party, because his focus was on self not on the celebration. Instead of worship he chose whining, instead of joy he gave in to jealousy. It’s often easy to recognize the pious older son because when given the opportunity to praise they often pout, grumbling and gripping is their go to. They are slow to celebrate and quick to complain. They usually begin a sentence, “Now I don’t mean to be critical but…” and then that’s exactly what they do, they criticize. Instead of celebrating and joining in the joy they get caught up in complaining. These are the grace grumblers and often they will use spiritual disciplines to communicate their disapproval, disciplines like prayer. Instead of using prayer as a means of connecting with the father they use it as a means to be critical, prayer becomes a way to piously point out other people’s problems. Their righteous life is really just a façade of faithfulness, because when the praise is not pointed at them they pout. Are you hiding behind a façade of holiness? It’s easy to get angry with these critical Christians but we need to remember that the Father loves them and we must too. The father loved both sons equally, and was willing to pursue both of their hard hearts. His response to the pouting son was to go and plead with him to join the party. Yet like many pouting prodigals he chose to be miserable and remain on the outside. What he really missed was the miracle of God’s mercy because he didn’t think he needed it. He chose to rely on the rules and missed resting in the relationship. I believe that one of the greatest challenges to the church is not the prodigals but the pouters. The ones who say things like, “Pastor, I don’t think we ought to clap and lift our hands in church, if we are not careful we’re going to become charismatic.” Yet the irony of their words is that often these are the same people who will go to a football game and lift their hands in the air and shout “Touchdown!” They are ok celebrating college football but not Christ. They are ok getting excited about sports but not the Savior, because somehow things are going to get out of hand if we celebrate in church. This is the son who was so afraid of going out on a limb that he never got near the tree. It’s not hard to spot the pouting prodigal, they are constantly complaining and seldom happy. Instead of responding with rejoicing they chose resentment and bitterness. What about you, do you celebrating or complaining over those who come home? Are you celebrating Gods party or sitting on the pity potty?