“’Your brother has come,’ (the servant) replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him (Luke 15:27-28).”
We’ve observed how the younger son in Jesus’ famous Parable of the Prodigal Son ran off to a far country and squandered his wealth and life in reckless living. Let’s turn our attention now to the older brother. Having heard the sounds of celebration, the older brother had asked one of the servants what was going on. Learning that his father has thrown a party to celebrate the return of the prodigal, the older son refuses to go in to that celebration even as the father pleads for him to do so. “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders,” he tells his father, “yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.”
The older brother is now outside the will of his father, even as the younger brother had been. Notice, the father pleads with him to come in, but he refuses. This is a hard pill to swallow, particularly for many of us who see ourselves as dutiful and serious servants of God. Somewhere along the journey, the wonder of the father’s provision and goodness and steadfast love is replaced by a sense of moral achievement and personal righteousness based on comparison with others. The prayer of the Pharisee, “I thank you Lord that I am not like that tax collector over there…” may never actually reach our lips, but it is lurking somewhere in the back of the mind. Lost in this is the deep gratitude that the younger son now has because he knows that everything he has and is and shall be is because of the outrageous goodness of the father.
n this Lenten season, pause to consider the ways the attitude of the older brother may have become your own. Are you often judgmental? Do you easily become jealous of others who are recognized, while you are not? Have the sense of duty and a strain of seriousness replaced the joy of the father? Are you resentful of others because they, not you, are the center of the party? Acknowledge these things, confess them, and then—this is most important—turn back to home, the love of God, who made Jesus to be sin so that we might be the righteousness of God.