The Prodigal Son—Lost and Found But what about the older son?

The story of the prodigal son is one of my favorites. Is it one of your favorites or is it your favorite story that Jesus tells? I guess it depends on if you’re the older son or the prodigal son.

What about this other son? The dad gives the younger son his inheritance and the dad isn’t even dead. He just hands it over to the younger kid in advance. The kid squanders all his inheritance. He ends up hitting rock bottom. He’s so far down he even envies the food that’s fed to the pigs. What does he do? What can he do?

He decides he has no choice but to crawl back home. There’s no other way to go. He realizes he must humiliate himself. Humiliation is a word that cuts right through our souls. It hits us in the gut. It’s a terrible thing to have to humiliate yourself to right a wrong. So when the kid gets home his dad welcomes him. What a huge shock to this kid who has accomplished nothing with his inheritance. He’s squandered it. But his dad still welcomes him home. The dad kills the fatted calf and throws a party.

Why would the dad give the inheritance to this kid in the first place? Do you think he knew his kid would squander it sending him running home in humiliation? Was it the aim of the dad to humiliate his son? The answer is found in the celebration. Such is parenting. Definitely not easy. In the beginning, the child is totally dependent on you. Then the child discovers the word, “No.” Next, the child goes through a process of growing and becoming independent. But with that independence comes learning to fail. So the prodigal son comes home and the father knew in advance that the odds of letting the kid discover life far outweighed the celebration. Likewise, God gives us the gift of choice to love him or not.

In the movie Bruce Almighty, there’s a scene where he uses his power to make the girl that he loves to love him back when she really doesn’t. But for love to be genuine, it must be given freely. This begs the question: Why does the dad give the son the chance to squander the money? He knows if he gives him the opportunity to return, he’ll return with a genuine love and wanting to come home. Faith grows when faith is all that’s left. The prodigal son is a lesson well learned.

Now, what about the other brother? The brother who didn’t ask for his inheritance in advance. The brother who never would have squandered his money? What about him? Why is he so upset? Maybe because he thought the dad was throwing a party for the wrong son. When he confronts his dad, we see that he no longer wants to call his brother—his brother. He says, “your son,” “this son of yours.”

The scene goes like this. The older brother comes in from the fields and upon hearing all the celebration asks what’s going on. When he learns of his father’s celebration for the return of the younger son, he becomes angry and refuses to go inside. The father comes out to ask him why and, in his anger, he lashes out saying, “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!” He’s clearly very angry.

The father answers saying, “‘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 is found.”

Do you think the older son understood? I don’t think he ever did. He didn’t want anything to do with his father’s love that his father gave freely. He couldn’t forgive his younger brother. He couldn’t admit that he couldn’t do everything by himself and that he didn’t know everything. He let his pride rule his emotions keeping him in this perpetual state of anger. He had no concept of how his father could love unconditionally. Never expecting anything in return. That’s where the older brother fell so very short. All the work he did, all the things he thought he did right, he did it all for the wrong reasons. He did it thinking that’s how he would win his father’s love.

So why would God choose the younger brother anyway? He had to be the wrong person to fill out this story. Here’s the thing—God is in the habit of choosing the wrong people because He uses them in a miraculous way.

Look at how Jesus chose his disciples:

Jesus and those who would become his disciples grew up in an environment when the Galileans led a revolt against the Romans. It ended in their bloody defeat which in turn sealed their fate of being dominated by Roman rule. They were the last holdout. They loved God and they loved the Torah. Because of that they were committed to raising their kids to do the same. Boys and girls from birth were read to out of the Torah. Bet Sefer which means house of the book was taught to kids beginning at age five. They were required to begin memorizing the Torah. By the age of ten most of the kids had memorized the entire first five books of the Old Testament.

Next came Bet Talmud (the house of learning) for a chosen few at the age of ten. They would memorize songs, theological dialogue, the Law, oral traditions, and Rabbinic interpretations. These kids would most likely complete their education by the age of fifteen and would either go back to work in their father’s trade or, if very gifted, would move on to the next level of education. They would seek out a Rabbi to study under. This type of student was referred to as a talmid or disciple. When they found the Rabbi they wanted they would ask to follow him. If the Rabbi thought them good enough, they would hear the longed-for words, “Follow me.” The talmid or disciple would follow that Rabbi and devote themselves to him for the next fifteen years of their life.

The Yoke of the Rabbi applies to the disciple being willing to submit and adhere to the Rabbi and his interpretation and application of the Old Testament Scriptures. So you can see that disciples taught their Rabbi’s interpretations and not their own. They memorized his words, adopted his interpretations, imitated his ministry, and when recruiting their own disciples, they multiplied his teachings.

Now if you look at Jesus and when he began selecting his disciples, you see that he chose the words, “Follow me.” When Jesus approached them for the very first time, they most likely ranged in age from sixteen to nineteen. They weren’t the best of the best because they were working with their fathers and hadn’t been chosen by a Rabbi. But when they heard Jesus say to them, “Follow me,” they knew exactly what he meant.

Why do you think Jesus chose these guys? Some say they weren’t smart enough or they were dropouts. Why choose them? I submit that God chooses what man thinks are the “wrong people” over and over again. The why? Because He knows best. Just like the father knew best and gave the prodigal son the opportunity to return even though the older son was not happy.

Here it is: God has chosen you. Don’t be the older son. Why? Because God will move on and choose the younger one.

Give heaven an excuse to party.

Photo by Nathan Mullet on Unsplash

And that’s what I learned in Church……see ya next time!