“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” Luke 15:25-30
Big brothers can be mean….
As we said a few weeks ago, the parables of Jesus are easy to read, but strike at the heart and can be quite thought provoking ; they are intended to lead us to a true understanding of God, His Kingdom and how He intends for us to live and act if we want become true kingdom citizens.
The focus today is not the prodigal son, but rather the grumpy older son. If you consider all the complaints he made to his father, you’ll see that they were all valid and true. That’s the problem with grumpy people—they are often quite correct about what they gripe about. But then, so are the joy-filled people. It’s all about what you are looking for. What do you look for in people? The things that touches God’s heart or the things that irk you? Both are present, but our fixation or one or the other influences how we see them and treat them.
Jesus wanted His listeners to consider the older brother—because most of the people listening to Him were like the older brother—some of us in the this room are as well. The older brother was the one that never really did anything wrong that bad. He may have had ill thoughts and some pretty evil dreams, but he was externally devout and faithful.
In a real sense, the older brother is the baby-brother in the story—he behaves just like a spoiled child. Things aren’t like he wants, so he decides to pout and ruin the happy time for everyone else. He’s upset with his father’s mercy—as most grumpy people are. Angry people don’t like others being happy. Now he was happy to receive his dad’s mercy, from time to time, but he resents this “sinner” of a brother coming home to so warm a welcome. Something was wrong with his heart. Something is wrong with any heart that is not able to believe in the repentance, redemption and restoration of a child of God that wants to turn their back on a bad life and enter into a new life.
We can understand a little of why the older son felt like he did. I had brothers and sisters, and I can recall wanting to be the favored one. Perhaps the younger boy was the apple of his dad’s eye, or maybe younger son so was the lazy one at the farm, or perhaps the elder son just resented the waste and shame the boy brought upon the family name. And here is his indulging father once again putting up with that sorry little brother. Clearly, the elder son was not happy to see his brother return. And that’s the point. The older son would have been quite content for the younger boy to have starved to death, been put in prison or killed. It was as if the younger brother were dead, in the elder brother’s mind, and he was quite happy being the only child! The elder held no desire for his sibling to ever come home again. That kind of heart, and that way of thinking does not belong in the kingdom of God—or in the church of Jesus Christ.
How do we feel about people that are lost, (but having a grand time in their sin) turning around and returning to God? Are we resentful of the bad that they did—or are we jealous that we didn’t get a chance to be a prodigal son for while also! I never get the idea that the elder son had much love for his younger brother or his father. It’s like he lived the life he had to live—-not the life he really wanted to live.
Listen to what he says when his dad begs him to come to the party: “… he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!”
So you see, he felt betrayed, disrespected, unappreciated, and perhaps even unloved. But he was dead wrong. And he makes it clear that this younger brother is not his brother—he refers to him as, this son of yours”. How sad. He didn’t call him a brother, but “this son of yours.”
Again, externally the older son was a good son. When the party began he had l just finished another hard day's work, made harder for all these years by his little brother's absence. He was not in a forgiving mood, nor was he ready to accept—much less celebrate—his little brother's return to the family. To him, his brother was a loser and already dead and forgotten.
But he has no idea of what his younger brother had gone through, let alone how his brother had humbled himself and was quite ready to be a servant—-not a son or brother. In the elder son’s anger and self-pity, he lost sight of what was truly important. In addition, he failed to recognize the futility of trying to change or control what others do. His title brother made a horrible choice and had duly suffered for it. Sometimes, the people we have to let go of the ones we love, for a season, but we’re never told to let the love end.
The story of brothers being jealous and heartless goes back to the beginning of our time on this earth. You recall that Cain allowed his pride to fuel great resentment against his righteous brother, Abel. This pride transformed Cain into a miserable murderer. Later Joseph’s older brothers almost killed him, but instead sold him into slavery. This older son in this parable was simply not a very happy young man. No one can despise a brother, like he did, or Cain did. and be very happy. He had missed out on a life of joy before his brother left the home.
When you think about it, members in our families don’t make us “unhappy”. To be unhappy is to allow a disposition to take hold of us—-and it causes us to retreat into our own little miserable kingdom of self-pity and resentment. Perhaps you’re unhappy today? But who are you blaming?
Of course Jesus was also pointing out the sin and hypocrisy of the of the Pharisees and scribes when He told this parable—-and they knew it. Just like these Jewish religious leaders, the elder brother was living and judging by the letter of the law, not by its spirit. By all appearances, the elder brother was righteous, but inside, where a person's character forms, he was teeming with jealousy, hatred and hypocrisy.
The older brother represents the Pharisaical attitude that resents God's interest in sinners—the same attitude in the early church that initially looked suspiciously at the inclusion of Gentiles. The older son’s self-righteousness manifests itself in jealousy and envy. Elder sons are still here, of course. And it’s sad that we put up with the “older brother attitude” in churches. You’ve seen it. It’s the self-righteousness, those who shun others who do not live up to their standard of righteousness (Proverbs 20:6; Galatians 6:3; Titus 3:5). But people that think like this forget that their righteousness is as filthy as the rags of the prodigal son (Isaiah 64:6). Were it not for the blood of Jesus, we would have no righteousness.
Being born again is representative of what the younger son did. Living a “Spirit filled life”, is to respond to those that seek salvation like the father did—with affection and open arms. It’s not always easy or convenient to embrace people into Christian fellowship, whose previous life or values we once despised. In fact, it’s sometimes hard. G.K. Chesterton famously said that, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and seldom tried.” Yes, it is hard to forgive those that hurt us and those that hurt the ones we love. It’s near impossible to show kindness to those that wallow in sin and do things that sicken our stomachs.. But when they humble themselves and repent, it’s time to recall that we were once no better—perhaps far worse—than the ones that are asking to be restored. God, our Father, expects us to receive back those that have sinned just as HE has received us back.
Once we become a Christian (which is easy), we learn that we are to be transformed. The elder brother had to let go of his resentments against his sibling because that resentment kept him outside the feast.
Jesus brilliantly leaves the end of the parable open. You see, the elder brother has three options:
-He can keep his pride and decide to childishly pout, and not go into the feast. He will alone be and will mess all the phone, but his intent is to punish his father. This morning, are you alone or are you enjoying the banquet of the Good Father?
-He can go into the feast without forgiving his brother. He would have all that hate and fury trapped inside him, but perhaps he’s waiting for the chance to humiliate his younger son in front of the father and guests. Maybe he wants to make a big scene and ruin it all.
-Or he can come to his senses and rejoice as his father asks him, because his brother who was lost has been found and the family is united again. In a word, love could take control.
The Pharisees were very religious and obeyed the laws, but they weren’t loving people. You can live your whole life without letting a drop of liquor touch your lips, never take a single puff on a cigarette, keep your mind totally free from lust and sexual fantasies, be at the church every time Darla plans a youth event or Linda cleans a room, but if you have hate in your heart, you’re no different that this lost, older son.
Very early this morning I had a dream about a man I once worked for, a pastor of a large church. I was the youth pastor, and the man did not like me—and quite a few other people. He remains one of the most unkind people I have ever known. I did not like him. He’s been dead for years now. But last night, in my dream, I was working with him again, in that church, and was helping him sing the closing hymn. I recall that he was leading in one tempo, but a rather loud member of the choir was singing at a faster tempo, and he was frustrated. So I stepped forward and tried to sing louder, at the slower tempo he was singing. He noticed, and was grateful. But on the last verse of the song, he began to weep. The song reminded him of his granddaughter, who was dying. He was heart broken. And as he cried, I began to cry and my heart melted for him. I had compassion on a man that never showed compassion to me or ever displayed any love for me. I thanked God for the dream and for the chance to have love and compassion for a person, even though in a dream, that I had always rather resented.
Friends, your father might be a deacon….or a pastor….or a priest….or even a bishop …..or the Pope himself. But if you harbor hatred towards another brother or sister, your father is not God Almighty. I John 4:8 warns us, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”