Deep Dive into Jesus' Prodigal Story Part 9: The Father and His Older SonSep 30, 2023
As we bring this series to a close, we must remember that when Jesus first set out to share this parable, he was talking with tax collectors and religious rulers. He'd been accused of consorting with sinners by the religious rulers, and so He started His story like this,
"A man had two sons..."
We've missed so much of the deeper meaning of this story by focusing all our attention on the "prodigal son." --the one who wasted his substance on foolish living. But Jesus wasn't making just one point, He was making several.
The prodigal son demonstrates what happens when we foolishly demand what we think belongs to us, waste it, wind up in a pig pen and crawl back home. God's love and compassion does the humiliating work of redeeming and restoring us to son-ship in His family.
The father demonstrates how much God loves us, showing us that He is willing to humble Himself in order to have intimate, dynamic relationships with us.
The older brother demonstrates what organized religion will do if we're not careful.
Let's close out this series of blog posts by diving deep into the final interaction the father had with his other son.
"Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 'Your brother is back,' he was told, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.'
The older brother was angry and wouldn't go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, 'All these years I've slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!'
His father said to him, 'Look dear son you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and now he is found!'"
Why was the older brother angry?
It was Middle Eastern practice to beat a son who did this. To publicly disgrace his father was to do the unthinkable. But rather than beat his son, the father "came out and begged him..."
Once again the father takes the initiative to go get his son, and to humble Himself to plead with him in front of the servants and others who might see him do this.
Are you seeing the humility of our Heavenly Father?
He doesn't get in the face of his son and shout, "Who do you think you are! You better shape up or ship out!" No! The Father pleads with him to come and enjoy the party!
Kristin McLelland, in her Running Father online course, takes the older son's argument to task. She tells us that the older son wouldn't have "slaved" for his father. He might have administrated the slaves for his father but he wouldn't have done the work himself. She says that he's lost his mind because he's so mad. And that when he told his Dad that he'd never been given, even a young goat, to celebrate with his friends, it simply was not so because the father gave both sons their inheritance at the beginning of the story. And the older brother received 2/3rds of the wealth!
He's really mad about that fattened calf because it was his calf!
This entire interaction had to be fascinating to Jesus' audience because this father was over and above loving. No doubt the religious rulers saw themselves in the older brother.
"My son...this brother of yours was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now is found."
And that, my friends is where the story ends. We never know if the older brother gets over himself and goes into the banquet, or if he stands outside and sulks.
As the parent of a prodigal, I've read this story very differently than I ever did before. Here is what I've learned:
1. Prodigals happen.
It doesn't matter why, it doesn't matter how--it matters that we, the parents, agree with our children's God-given freedom to decide for themselves how they will live their lives.
2. Prodigal parents have to endure the long wait.
To stop waiting would be to stop loving. To stop waiting would be to give up hope. Chances are they're coming home--will you see them while they are a long way off and be ready to receive them?
3. Prodigal parents need to let the suffering accomplish its purpose.
Pride will kill your prodigal. And God uses suffering to kill the pride that wants to kill your kid. Trust God in the wait, and steer clear of the temptation to intervene in your prodigal's pig pen experience.
3. Prodigal parents can be compelled by love and compassion.
I love that we don't have to "save face," or impress our communities, or keep up appearances, or sit back and wait until our prodigals can muster up a proper apology to lavish them with love. When your prodigal heads home, meet them at the pass and remind them that being your child comes with every ounce of honor you have to give.
4. Being a parent of a prodigal is an exercise in humility.
And what does humility look like for the prodigal parent? It is walking in the reality of your prodigal's shame and refusing to wear it like a badge of honor. It's talking about your prodigal in terms of their full standing as your son or daughter. It's loving them from a distance by honoring their name, and protecting it from gossip.
It's apologizing for not doing this until now and determining to do it from here on out.
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