Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
The other brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘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!’
“My son,” the father said, ‘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.”
– Luke 15: 25-31 (NIV)
How incredible is it, that Christ included these words about the other son in the parable of the Prodigal son? I have to marvel sometimes at the amazing foresight Jesus had to understand every heart in the room because I have to be honest with you – for most of my life, I approached my need for forgiveness much more like the older son in this story.
I remember sitting in Sunday School, almost smiling with self importance as the Sunday school teacher let us color in pictures of the lost son feeding the pigs. I would say in the quiet of my heart, as I chose the ugliest crayon color for the pig slop, this serves you right – you were awful and you got what you deserved. (I was admittedly a very self righteous 5 year old)
I wonder how of many of us can relate to that? The Prodigal Son is an incredible image of mercy, grace and repentance. A father running. A lost son found. A dead relationship mercifully brought back to life.
But I grew up in a Christian family. I went to church. I behaved in school. I served at home. In many ways there was an ambitious nature to my faith that strove to be rewarded for my obedience, my works of righteousness and my morality.
There are times when I’ve sat in this passage… and I’m pretty sure that I too would have been in the field. If I’m honest, there have been times when I’ve loved being in that field a little too much.
I’ve heard music and dancing in the distance, thrown down my work in frustration and marched back indignantly to pull the plug. I’ve pulled friends and family aside, hissed from the sidelines to ask, “What on earth is going on?”
I can almost imagine the older son’s face as the servant responds to him, “Your brother has come home.”
“And your Father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”
Shortness of breath.
Anger…. Refusing to go in. Creating a scene. Resenting the Celebration. Writing retorts in my head.
And yet this magnificent, merciful father, leaves the party, goes outside and pleads, he actually pleads with him, to come and join the community in receiving their lost brother.
But he is stung and he has his retort ready made – “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!’
And now the real truth comes out. Pain. Pride. Hurt.
Perhaps for you, the most heartbreaking scene in this parable, is that of the lost son, sitting among the pigs, weeping bitterly into their slop as he regrets his path of destruction and hopes for a servants wage in his former life.
For me, the most heartbreaking scene is this speech. I can imagine the heart break in the older son’s face as he spits out some of his deepest hurts, fears and wounds.
That the years of obedience spent slaving haven’t mattered.
That the absence of any reward was intentional.
That the younger brother was always loved more, preferred, blessed more.
That there are no consequences, good or bad for behavior.
That no matter what I do – it doesn’t matter.
How many of you can picture yourself in these shoes? Perhaps you can’t name a time of great wandering in a far off land. Perhaps, like me, there was a time that you truly thought yourself upright, obedient, good hearted and dare I say it worthy of more of the Father’s love. Perhaps your heart doesn’t break fro the son who ran away, but rather for the son who stayed.
Some of us have never strayed that far. Some of us have stayed in the field all our lives. Obedient. Slaving. Following Orders. We’ve watched our brothers and sisters leave. We’ve watched them fall apart in catastrophic and destructive ways. We may have even watched them get what we think they deserve – suffering, hard times, reality.
For some of us, it is a painful experience to watch these brothers and sisters be mercifully forgiven, re embraced into society and met with exorbitant celebration and seeming reward. For some of us, the very sight of a father running to a brother in need of forgiveness, feels like that same father is running away from us. Forgiveness can brew bitterness.
The beautiful part about Jesus including the older son, is that in just the same way the Father ran to embrace his lost son. He leaves the party to plead with the older son.
The Father also loves the older son.
After the older son’s pained retort – I can now imagine that same running, pleading father, holding his face, and with tenderness and love sharing,
“My son. You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”
Oh how I need to sit in this moment. For some of us we need to sit in this moment. To have the Father attend to our deep pain, our bitterness, OUR SIN, and respond with the same heart we see at times more loudly on display for others. The Father calls us his. He breathes intimacy and draws us close. He assures us that nothing, nothing is withheld from us. There is no favoritism. No ignorance of our service. The Father has seen, known and loved me all along. The fattened calf. The robes. The dancing. The party. It is all available to me just the same.
The Father still shares an opportunity for growth with this field captive son. His works righteousness, his hardened heart, his bitterness are all still addressed with a beautiful invitation to see the world through the Father’s eyes.
“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.”
Earlier the older son hurtfully shared – “but when this son of yours comes home…” In many ways wiping his hands of his own brother. This son of yours. Not this brother of mine.
But the father reminds him. “This brother of yours.”
We need to find solidarity and companionship in this family of God’s. We are not intended to be children vying for attention, but rather fully present and loving sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, who break when others break and who rejoice when others rejoice.
It is first, an invitation to stop being alone. To recognize that you too are a son, a brother, a family member, a tribe member – who breaks and who is built up by the collective community.
“This brother of yours was dead and is alive again. He was lost and now is found.”
The Father does not hold back the magnitude of the invitation. The scope is limitless. When our brothers and sisters leave, we grieve as if death has occurred, when they repent, we rejoice as if there is resurrection.
Once upon a time I may not have named my sins as readily as the Prodigal Son. My identity was wrapped up in the sins I hadn’t committed instead of the forgiveness I will always so desperately need. Now, with the eyes of the Father I can see, not only does my works righteousness, hard heartedness and jealousy also need a forgiving, pleading father –
But every brother who was lost and who now is found, is an opportunity for me to find a piece of myself again.
We are all prodigals in need of forgiveness, we are all brothers, we are all in this family.
May we never grow too old to join the celebration of the Father.
Grace and Peace to you,
Jenna and The Practice Team