In Luke’s gospel account, he tells of a parable Jesus told, which we now call the story of the prodigal son. Now, predominantly, in our retelling of this parable, we have made it all about the wayward son and the Father’s love for all who are a far off. But Jesus started the parable by saying “a man who had two sons...” We have taken the focus off of the two sons and made the story about the one sinner. And while the story about the one son who was lost and hurting and yet still loved by the father is a phenomenal story (one which we all should relate to), Jesus was trying to show both the lost AND also the faithful, an important lesson.
While we easily recognize the younger brother as having wandered from the father’s heart, I believe Jesus was telling people to also be mindful of even our faithful service, as it’s easy to lose ourselves there too. While the younger brother had wandered in his sin and philandering, the older had wandered too, in his duty and job. No longer was all that he had a gift, it had become a right. He had worked for it and deserved it. While the father loved and cared for both, it was easier for the younger to see his need for the fathers love. The older began mistaking his duty as his relationship with the father.
We all find ourselves somewhere within this story. The Father loves and cares for us all deeply. Some of us are the younger son, wether running from the Father, or realizing our need for the Father and returning. But how many of us have stopped to realize we might be the older brother? How many of us, in our righteous indignation, have ever looked down upon someone who has lost their way? Jesus said that the older brother even went so far as to become angry and refused to join the party thrown for the younger son’s return.
I wonder how the story would have ended if, when the younger brother returned, he had met his older brother first, as opposed to the father. Would the older brother have pointed him to the love of their father? Or, is it more likely the older brother would have begun to belittle the younger brother, reminding him of all he had squandered and wasted. Then, at best, he may have let the younger return, but only as a hired hand, a slave, like the younger only thought himself worthy. But much more probable (and indicative of our typical attitude), the older brother likely would have sent the younger on his way because he had screwed up, or had squandered his life and wasn’t worthy any more of the father’s time or love.
Sadly, this is a thought process that is engrained in our lives today. Jesus offers His grace and forgiveness to all, but as followers, we have a tendency to look down our nose at those whose lives seem to be wasted. Both sons needed His love! Our abilities and hard work do not make the Father love us any more. In fact, in the parable, the father looks at the older son and says, “My son, 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 now is found.”
I encourage you, don’t just brush off the individual who appears less-than or lost. We all need the heart of the Father, and it is our job to continually direct people to Him. It is not our job to get prideful of what we have accomplished compared to others. We need to realize what we have is for all, and we to, like the Father did for us, should celebrate and be glad when our brother or sister, who was lost, is found!