Yesterday at church, the topic of the prodigal son’s older brother came up. For those of you who don’t know the story (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus tells a story of a wealthy man with two sons. One of them tells his father screw you, I don’t want to wait for you to die, give me the inheritance so I can go blow it all on booze and hookers (paraphrased). After doing so, he eventually runs out of money, finding himself poor and doing a humiliating job just to stay alive. He decides to go back to his family, apologize, and offer to work on his father’s farm to make up for wasting his share of the family fortune. But before he even has the chance to beg his father for a job, his father rejoices that his son has returned and prepares a feast for him.
The man’s other son does not share in the joyful mood, however. He says, essentially, hey, wait a minute, I’ve been loyal and faithful all my life, so why don’t I get a party? Why are you celebrating this jerk who abandoned the family fortune and blew it all on hookers? Dad replies, essentially, I still love you, but we have to celebrate because your lost brother is found.
The story is an illustration of God’s love for his people and his desire to bring us back into relationship with Him, even with all our sins and mistakes and mess. God sent Jesus to die for the sins of all human beings, not just the Jews. The brother in the story represents the Pharisees, the leaders of the Jews in Jesus’ time who were obsessed with their rules and their way of life. They were unable to accept Jesus because he did not fit their narrow-minded idea of what the coming Messiah would be like. They resented the fact that Jesus was reaching out to tax collectors, prostitutes, and those on the fringes of society, while criticizing the Pharisees’ narrow-minded views despite their outward, yet empty, displays of devotion.
I was thinking about this, and I realized that I’m more like the prodigal son’s brother than I like to admit. I often find myself a bit resentful when people’s lives still involve all the things I was always told was wrong, yet they manage to be happy and successful and find the kind of church involvement and fellowship that I’ve been struggling to find for the last decade. Hey, wait a minute, I’ve been loyal and faithful, so why don’t I get all that?
If I’m ever going to be happy, I need to put an end to this kind of thinking now. I have no right to feel this way, and my attitude is exactly that of the people that Jesus criticized most harshly. For one thing, I haven’t been loyal and faithful. I’m not perfect. I am a sinner saved by grace, just like everyone who has made me feel resentful, and I should be thanking God for this. My supposed outward signs of piety aren’t what is important here. And I can’t keep comparing my life to that of others. I have to let go of everything I had once hoped for that isn’t going to happen now.
I know in my head exactly what is wrong with this line of thinking. The hard part is actually changing the way my mind works…