The parable of the prodigal son is one of Jesus’ most well-loved and well-known parables. Not many people haven’t heard of it. The emphasis and explanation are usually on the man’s youngest son, who disrespectfully and foolishly asked for his inheritance ahead of his father’s death.
Amazingly his father agreed to his request; I am sure this would have been as unpalatable a story then as it is to anyone hearing it today.
The foolish younger son spent his inheritance on riotous living and eventually ran out of money and had to work for a living. He ultimately realised that even his father’s servants were living a better life than he was now. So he determined to go back to his father to beg his forgiveness and ask for work on his land alongside the other farm labourers.
The father, who had been hoping and praying for his son’s return, saw him coming on the horizon and rushed to meet him. Regardless of the disrespect – he forgave his son everything and ordered the fatted calf to be killed for a celebration party.
The parable demonstrates God’s great joy when one of his children recognises their sin, repents from it, and turns to Him.
However, like many of Jesus’s parables, there is a twist in the tale; it is to do with the older son; the reflection below takes the story further.
The image used to accompany this parable is because we don’t usually celebrate with fatted calves these days; fireworks are popular to mark a celebration, though. Hopefully, the photo reflects the joy God, our heavenly father, feels when one of us returns to Him.
Reflection on the Prodigal Son’s Older Brother:
Here comes the sting in the parable of the prodigal son ….
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 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. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 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 15:28-32 (NRSV) Biblegateway
Of course, the younger son was a complete reprobate, Jesus could hardly have painted a picture of a worse sinner, but the older brother was equally lost in his judgement and pious pride.
The father, representing God, loved them equally despite their weaknesses; the younger son recognised his and repented, and the elder son could not even see his. Jesus was comparing the older son to the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who were blinded by their own goodness.
The depth of understanding and compassion Jesus had for our human weaknesses, whilst also aware of our full latent potential, never ceases to amaze me. He knew that there is a spectrum upon which we all fit at some point; at one extreme is the recklessness of the younger brother, at the other the judgemental righteousness of the elder brother.
I can certainly see myself careering around on this spectrum and would love to rely more on God’s grace than on my works.
What an explosion of fireworks there will be in the heavens when we can all stand balanced in perfect peace, calm and harmony at the central position on the reckless/pious seesaw?