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!’”
In the older brother’s attitude and actions we see several common characteristics of a pouting prodigal, not only did he have an angry spirit of grumbling but he also had
- An inflated sense of goodness
In verse 29 we see that the older son not only exaggerated his own goodness but he also exaggerated his brother’s sin. Five times he used the first personal pronoun: “All these years I’VE been slaving for you; I never disobeyed you. You never gave ME a goat so I could celebrate with MY friends!” Me people are often miserable people. They end up focusing on fairness instead of the father, but what they miss is God’s mercy because if we got what was fair we would all have to face the fire. Instead of basing blessing on God’s grace he based it on his goodness, which caused him to play the comparison game. Comparing creates a critical spirit, look what he said about his brother, “when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!” Now we were never told in the previous verses that the younger brother visited prostitutes, that’s just what the older brother said. Basing God’s gift of grace on our work leads to pointing out other people’s sins and proclaiming our success. In short it promotes pride, which loves to put others down while puffing self-up. Let’s be realistic, there is no way he had been totally obedient to his father all these years. But in his mind, when he compared himself to his sinful brother, he was a saint. The truth is he was a judgmental jerk who refused to rejoice with the Father because he was focused on fairness according to self. But God doesn’t grade on a curve He grades on a cross, which means we all need to see our sin and stop pretending we are perfect. He was so focused on his feelings that he couldn’t see the repentance and restoration of his brother. His feelings blinded him to the bigness of the Father, you can block the light of the mighty sun with a tiny dime if you hold it close enough to your eye. An over inflated sense of goodness will block you from seeing God’s grace. Our righteousness doesn’t come from comparing ourselves to those more rotten than us but trusting in Christ’s work on the cross. If you want to make a mess of things then start comparing yourself to other sinners. It’s easy to see the sins of others and start to believe that we are better but we need to remember that it’s not just the seen sins we have to deal with but also the secret sins of the spirit as well. Henri Nowen’s life was revolutionized by understanding this point, he was a minister and a moral man but God used this passage to show him he was guilty of the sins of the older brother and it changed his life. In his book “the return of the prodigal son” he write: “Looking into myself and then around me at the lives of other people, I wonder which does more damage, lust or resentment? There is so much resentment among the ‘just’ and the ‘righteous.’ There is so much judgment, condemnation and prejudice among the ‘saints.’ There is so much frozen anger among the people who are so concerned about avoiding ‘sin.’“ The reality is that it’s not just wild living that we can waste our lives on, there are the sins of jealousy, pride, anger, and resentment that which will ruin us. Sometimes these are the harder sins to contend with because we think we can hide them behind a vale of holiness. It’s easy to criticize those whose sins are open and obvious, but do we contend with the heart sins hidden deep within. The older son’s sins were cloaked by his hard work and his seeming faithfulness in serving the Father. But the party was the catalyst that uncovered his secrete sins, you see the older son just like the younger was living to serve self. While he pointed an accusing finger at his younger brother he was just as guilty. While the younger son chose the vehicle of rebellion the older brother used the vehicle of rules. Now Rules may be a more acceptable and better looking vehicle on the outside but we need to remember that they both take us to the same place, separated from the father. What about you do you find yourself looking down on others and seeing their sin as bigger than yours? Are you angry with the Father because life isn’t fair? Are you missing His mercy and grumbling at grace? Yesterday I had the privilege of serving the younger son, a man who has ruined his life with rebellion. He had recently been released from federal prison and needed help getting on his feet. While in prison he met Jesus Christ and was saved from his sin, he found real freedom before he was ever released from prison. A man had given him my name and number and so he called asking if I would help, so I went picked him up and took him to buy the few things he needed. There we were walking through the store a pastor and former prisoner, was I any better than him, no. We were two men both saved by the same Savior. Both equally in need of the same grace, how refreshing to be with someone who got God’s grace, who had nothing from a material perspective but everything from a mercy perspective. Here was a man who marveled at God and had a party perspective instead of a poverty one. What a contrast between us, here I was with a home a vehicle, clothes and money to pay my bills while he was excited with a few quarters so he could do a half load of laundry, that’s all the clothes he had. But I wondered to myself who has the happier heart, whose love and service is more sincere? As we talked together we kept coming back to grace and how we were both clinging to the cross for our righteousness not our filthy rags. If you are an older brother and you find yourself being cynical and critical, then like the father I want to plead with you to participate in the party. The truth is we need to party with the younger son because watching them rejoice is not only refreshing its rejuvenating. It’s time to stop pouting and join the party.