Before we broke for my Easter article, we had been in a series looking at Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. We’ve seen the prodigal leave home in a hunt for hedonistic pleasures. We walked with him as his dreams turned to ashes. We traveled with him as he took the long journey home. We marveled at the father’s reception and restoration of this wayward son. We explored various applications of this parable and God’s love and acceptance of us — no matter how far away from him we may have roamed. But there is one more character in this story that we haven’t examined yet. In fact, it was this particular character that led me to this series of articles. To understand him, we had to get the background. Now we turn our attention to the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found,’" (Luke 15:25-32, NIV).
Over the years I have learned that it is one thing to be reconciled to the father, it is quite another thing to be reconciled to some of his children. This older brother stayed with the father, he enjoyed the benefits of home, but he obviously did not share the heart of his father. Work on the farm to him was a drudgery, not a delight. He didn’t view the father as generous, but as stingy and a harsh taskmaster. You see his animosity surface we he describes his obedience to the father as "slaving for you all these years."
There are many unfortunately in the church like this older brother. They may do all the right things outwardly, but inwardly their hearts are elsewhere. When this older brother casts his disparaging remarks at his younger brother come home, we get a glimpse of how he might have spent his half of the inheritance were he not so concerned with keeping up appearances. But keeping up the appearances could not disguise the anger and animosity he now displays to the father. "You never gave me anything," is the cry of a selfish, self-seeking son whose jealousy over the father’s acceptance of this prodigal brother is painfully revealed.
There are those in the church like this. They are the score-keepers. Let a wayward child try to return home and they make remarks like, "How can God use him when he’s spent time in jail?" "God can’t bless her because she’s divorced." "I don’t think he’s really sincere. How can he be saved?"
Many prodigals cannot bring themselves to return to the Father because they cannot face the elder brothers who are quick to judge, quick to criticize, quick to shoot those who are wounded. But we cannot let the attitude of others keep us from the Father’s tender embrace. To all those who have blown it, I say "Hurry to the Father and don’t let the criticism of your elder brothers stop you."
And to you elder brothers I say — stop being so petty. Recognize that you are a member of God’s family because of grace not because you are a goody-two sandals. Recognize that it takes the same embrace from the father to accept you as it does to accept the wayward. Stop standing in the way, and join the party.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington, Ga. He can be heard on the radio on WMVV 90.7 (FM) at 8:30 pm Thursday nights. For more information visit the www.gatewaycommunity.org