This past weekend I preached about what is arguably Jesus’ best known parable. It’s usually called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” but it isn’t just about that character. Jesus’ story is about three main characters: a younger son, an older brother, and their father. (If you are unfamiliar with the account or would like to review the story it is in Luke 15:11- 32).
Most of the time when we study this parable the focus is on the younger son and the elder brother is minimally mentioned. As important as “The Prodigal Son” is, I think for Christians the older brother may be even more important.
In a nutshell, Jesus’ story is about the younger son leaving home, spending all his money, and deciding to return home. Upon his return his father runs out to meet and welcome him, and throws a party to celebrate his homecoming. Meanwhile, the older brother is working outside, hears the noise of the party, finds out his dad is celebrating the younger son’s return, and refuses to join the celebration. Dad goes out to talk to him and explains why he is doing what he is doing and affirms the older boy; but Jesus ends the story with the older brother outside (see verses 25-32).
The title for this post is my summary paraphrase of what the elder son said to his father in light of the welcome and celebration given to his younger brother. It’s as though he said to his dad, “he left and spent your money, came back home, and you throw him a party. I didn’t leave, but stayed here and worked for you. What about me?”
Some 40 years ago I went to a Bible study on this parable led by one of my favorite preachers, Bob Shannon. What follows about this elder brother is for the most part borrowed from him.
In reading Jesus’ description of the elder brother we can see some things that as Christians cannot be a part of our attitude and outlook.
The elder brother seems indifferent to his brother’s fate and his father’s grief before the younger son returned and his joy when he returned.
The elder brother seems to be blind to his privileges in the family and on the farm.
The elder brother seems self-righteous claiming to have never disobeyed his father’s orders (verse 29).
The elder brother is jealous that his erring brother has been welcomed home so joyfully and he will not go in and participate.
In verse 30 he seems to disown his younger brother when he says to his dad “this son of yours” and not “my brother.”
The elder brother is judgmental as he accuses his younger brother of spending his money on prostitutes (verse 30).
The first two verses of Luke 15 give the context of this parable. It seems obvious that the younger son represents “the tax collectors and sinners who were all gathering around to hear Jesus.” The older brother represents “the Pharisees and teachers of the law” who criticized Jesus for welcoming and eating with those kind of people. The father in the story represents God, our heavenly father.
Do you see any reflection of yourself in the elder brother, and are you honest enough to admit it? I confess, at times I do see myself in him.
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I don’t know why I always seem so amazed when I learn even more from you. It’s seeing the same story but through a different angle. I love learning and I miss this… Thank you! Yes, I do see the older brother in me every once in a while….
This story has so many learnings. Thank you Pastor Bob.