Darren Lippe helps facilitate Journey 101 “Loving God” classes, guides a 3rd grade Sunday school class, is a member of a small group & a men’s group, and serves on the Curriculum team.
There are all kinds of famous brothers throughout history. A list might include Orville & Wilbur Wright, the Parker Brothers of board game fame, the Ringling Brothers of circus renown, and I would submit that for religious & even nominally religious folk, the 2 brothers from today’s parable.
Jesus, ever the master storyteller, uses His audience’s understanding of sibling rivalry to subtly & quickly add depth to the relationship dynamic in today’s brief story. Being the father of 2 sons, I easily relate to the tension between the brothers of today’s scene.
When our boys were little guys, a rivalry would occasionally flare-up at odd times like the brief tussle over the purple chair at the Little Tykes table. As we re-created the crime scene, it appears Matthew was gleefully sitting in the “favorite” chair, which Jacob desperately desired. So, even though he was younger, Jacob pushed Matthew out of the chair. Though the re-telling of the crime by Matthew was quite pitiful & filled with drama, we determined the appropriate punishment would be for Jacob to tell Matthew he was sorry. Jacob quickly complied saying, “I am so sorry you were sitting in my chair.” Sigh.
I’ve long felt that today’s passage focusing on the older brother could be entitled, “Daddy Always Liked You Best.” (A take-off of the Smothers Brother’s comedy album, “Momma Always Liked You Best”.) (For our younger readers: The Smothers Brothers were a comedy duo from the ‘60s. An album is a vinyl disc….oh, Google it for yourself. – Editor.) Let us take a closer look at the older brother.
So, as our portion of the story begins, there is a great celebration going on & the older brother is working in the field. (What juxtaposition! I told you Jesus was good.) The older brother asks what is going on. Really? That’s your 1st response? It isn’t a scary noise; it’s music & dancing. Wouldn’t you head to the house anticipating a pleasant surprise?
When told of the earlier scene, the older brother becomes angry & refuses to go in. He has no interest in even greeting his returned brother. And, tellingly, he doesn’t know the details of the conversation/transaction between the Father & Younger Son, yet already he feels betrayed.
The Father leaves the party, not to rebuke or scold him, but to plead with his son. Wow. The Father is sure demonstrating some grace here, since the Father and oldest son should co-host all shindigs (so the whole village knows something is awry).
The Older Brother really unloads. He views himself as a slave, as having to follow demeaning orders/rules, and then unleashes an attack hoping to hit any emotional button he can:
My Brother “This Son of Yours” squandered your property & spent it on prostitutes. Uh oh.
The Father, who by all rights should be spitting mad at this point, does an amazing thing. He offers grace for a third time that day. He gently calls him “his son” meaning his abominable behavior is forgotten & forgiven and reminds the son that he is an heir to all that he has. The Father doesn’t apologize for his actions, but rather simply states why they are celebrating.
So what are we to make of the older brother? He didn’t enjoy being around the Father; he felt it was an obligation/imposition. On one hand he pretends to not care what the Father does with “his son,” but he is bitterly angry that the Father dared to forgive him. The older brother, himself, has deemed the younger brother’s activities as unforgivable & beyond pale.
By the end of the story he is so angry he is standing on the outside looking in at the banquet. Does he go in? Does he stay on the outside? I would submit that Jesus is telling us it really doesn’t matter what he does. Rather, what will we do?
We may catch ourselves at times with feelings very similar to the older brother. We may be appalled at the kind of people God may actually forgive. We may be tempted to view our brothers & sisters with contempt, not worthy of being in the presence of the Father. But perhaps Jesus is telling us that this isn’t our decision. It is God’s & God’s alone.
This parable is often referred to as the “Prodigal Son,” which some may know can mean “the wasteful son.” While we can immediately discern the younger brother was wasteful, I would submit a different perspective. The older brother is taking his Father & his Father’s love for granted & doesn’t even acknowledge what a special privilege it can be to be in His presence. So, as our story ends, who is being wasteful now?
Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions.