As we study the parable of the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32), it is theoretically possible to teach an entire lesson on just the first part of this parable. However, Jesus saw fit to include a last section (one that isn’t always included, in the interest of time), so it’s worth our time to review it.
The celebration of the younger son’s return wasn’t just a quiet ceremony, or a small confirmation that he was allowed back on the family property. No, there was “music and dancing”. (Incidentally, if you choose to not dance for whatever reason, I can respect that. After all, I don’t have the skills to dance, myself. However, joyful dancing is definitely a valid Biblical response to happy events.)
When he sees something going on, the older brother (like normal curious people) asks what is happening, and he gets the answer.
What happens next, though, may give us pause:
“The older 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!’
Luke 15:28-30 NIV
Rather than celebrating the fact that his brother has returned, and that his father is happy, the older brother gets pretty huffy. He complains that he’s been working hard (unlike his brother), and that his father never threw a party like this for him.
Here, I’m reminded of the parable of the laborers in Matthew 20:1-16. Workers are hired throughout the day, but those who started early complain at the end of the workday that they are paid the same as those who started work much later in the day (despite the fact that those who started early still got paid exactly what they agreed to work for in the first place).
And, aren’t we sometimes like this: rather than being overjoyed with the blessings that God gives us, we somehow feel owed more if we’ve been a Christian “longer” (compared to those who spent much of their lives partying and living it up far away from God, who are also welcome to the grace of God). In this scenario, our attitude stops becoming focused on the good things that we receive (even when we don’t deserve them), and more about wanting to get more than someone else we perceive as “spiritually inferior”.
Talking about the older brother, the Lookout (cited below) says, “…he viewed himself as something like a slave even though he was a son”. When we begin to look at God’s blessings as something that we’re owed (rather than gifts) though, we could fall into the same trap.
Now, some fathers might not have been so kind to this older brother. If one of my kids was acting this way, I might be tempted to tell them, “Straighten up and be nice to your brother”. However, the father in this parable (Luke 15:31-32) explains why a celebration is important, and he reminds the older son that the entire estate is his (whether now, or when his father passes).
Remember in verse 12, where the father “divided his property between them”? Maybe the older son was angry because he also had his eye on the father’s inheritance, and every animal that was used for a banquet made the herd (that he would inherit) just a little smaller. However, God’s blessings aren’t meant for us to hoard. While many of them do benefit us, we are often called upon to share God’s blessings with others. After all, God has more than enough to provide for all of us.
So, what do we do with what we have learned from this parable (over the past few articles)? It’s easy to say that we shouldn’t be wasteful of God’s generosity (like the younger son) or envious and bitter at God’s kindness (like the older son). And, that’s true.
At the same time, though, it’s probably good to take inventory of who we are most like in this parable. Is it time for us to “come to our senses” about bad choices that we have been making? Should we (like the God who reached out to save us when we were dead in our sins) show kindness and compassion – in Jesus’ name – to someone else? Or, do we need to stop craving more of God’s blessings that we see being given to others, and remember that God has more than enough for all of His children?
From Sunday School lesson prepared for May 23, 2022
- The Lookout, May 22, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Luke, by Mark C. Black. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.