I was talking to the Lord one day, and to be perfectly honest, I was whining. I was trying not to, but it didn’t work. I had a lot of things on my mind: situations that needed to change, people I cared about facing challenges, things that needed to change and I couldn’t see a solution. It was all swirling around inside my head.
He listened politely for a few minutes as I struggled vainly to bring some order to my thoughts and to actually come boldly before his throne of grace, then he interrupted me.
So as we walked, he began to teach me about the parable that we call The Prodigal Son. He just referred to it as The Two Brothers.
This is going to sound stupid and I already know it: I was yet again surprised by how well he knows the Bible. The depth of insight he has into his Word is overwhelming sometimes. And he communicates it better than I do.
Since we already know the story, I’m going to skim past a lot of the preliminary stuff:
The younger son didn’t understand who he was to his father, so he took what he could get, pretty much rebelled against his father and his father’s ways, distancing himself from Father as he runs off to find himself and his own way. When he came to his senses, he has the sense to repent, and his dad re-affirms him in four ways during his welcome home.
- A robe represents righteousness, so Dad is forgiving the boy. The first thing the son is reminded of is that he really is forgiven. It’s easy to miss that, and the boy didn’t even consider it an alternative with Dad.
- A ring speaks of authority: the son has authority within Dad’s realm. Again it’s contrary to his expectations that he is not a servant himself
- The son came back looking for a servant’s position. Dad gives him sandals: only nobility wore sandals, I’m told. “You’re part of the family. You’re nobility here.” At the very least, it’s provision for the sandals he’d lost, presumably in the pig farm.
- And then instead of the recriminations the boy expected, Dad has a party celebrating his son’s return. There was no accusation whatsoever: just joy. And the joyful party is a big one. A fatted calf can feed a whole lot of partygoers. Either they went on for days or they invited the whole neighborhood.
By contrast, the older son was out working in the field and ended up resenting rather than repenting: resenting the younger brother’s party and distancing himself from Father through working in the field. He point-blank refused to come to the party; instead he whines about the other son. His recriminations are also fourfold:
- “Look, I’ve served you for many years!” (implying, “and you haven’t even noticed!”)
- “See how good I am! I always obeyed your commandments (unlike some sons of yours that I could mention).”
- “You’re cheap! You never offered me a party (not even a little one for my friends. Without you, Dad).”
- “It’s not fair! Your favored son hasn’t been anywhere nearly as righteous as I have, but you treat him like royalty!”
This brother doesn’t come to his senses like his younger sibling; Dad has to go to him, and this ungrateful kid chews him out pretty fiercely. Father affirms four things to him as well:
- Relationship w/ God: “You’re always with me.” Don’t lose perspective: we’re just welcoming him back into what you have always had. It’s hard to have a great party celebrating our return when we haven’t run off & done stupid things.
- Authority: “All that I have is yours.” This boy whined that Dad didn’t offer an animal for a party with his friends. Dad says, “Look, it’s all yours. Do with it as you like.” We older brothers forget that we don’t need to ask someone else to give us what is already ours. It’s Dad’s kingdom, but it’s our inheritance.
- Relationship with the Family: “It was right that we should make merry….” It’s easy to lose track that we need to celebrate what God is doing in others, and sometimes that’s more important than working in the fields.
- This isn’t about you. It’s about your younger brother.
It’s my opinion that there are a number of us elder brothers in the church. Not all of us, of course, but we’re not small in number. We’re working in the fields, choosing diligent work instead of celebrating with our friends over a goat or celebrating a brother’s return with a fatted calf.
The older brother here was waiting for Dad to notice, waiting for him to spontaneously reward him for his works. How many times have we seen that attitude in the church? I’m hoping you haven’t seen it in your own motivations; I’m afraid I have.
, it’s good to party. The Law commanded it what? seven or so times per year: “Come together & celebrate!” In the New Testament, we’re commanded to rejoice all the time. Kingdom of God
More than that, since all He has is ours, the party is to be our initiative; we don’t wait for someone to force it on us, for someone to notice us and reward the self-righteousness of our self-sufficiency.
Instead of joining the party, we have our collective noses to the grindstone, and we’ve functionally missed the fact that every part of the Kingdom is ours. The truth is different; the truth is that we’re not working for another master, regardless of what it feels like. This is our kingdom; we have a say in how it goes.
I say, “I choose to repent, not resent.”
I say, “It’s time to party!”