The Prodigal Son Story Reveals God’s Heart, The Brother Reveals Ours.
Most baby boomers, even non-Christians, are familiar with or have at least heard the story of the Prodigal Son, as told in Luke 15:11-32. I won’t recap the entire story here, you can read that in your bible or view the passage on BibleGateway. If you ever get the chance to hear this parable exposited by a knowledgeable bible teacher, it’s quite fascinating.
To the Jewish audience that was hearing about the Prodigal Son, several concepts were offensive to them. A son demanding his inheritance, the feeding of unclean swine, and a father running to greet his son, all of these were the complete opposite of what was considered acceptable behavior. The extremism used in this parable is, to me, similar that which is used in The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.
Hearers of this parable would have felt an instant dislike for the son, making the Father’s actions that much more astonishing. We know how the story of the Prodigal Son ends; he decides to return home and ask forgiveness. The Father has been actively waiting for him and runs to greet him. A party begins and the Prodigal Son gets the robe, the ring, the shoes, and the fatted calf.
The Brother of the Prodigal Son
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…the brother is out in the field working. As he nears the house, he hears music and dancing. Here’s where, to me, it gets very interesting. First, scripture says that the brother asked a servant what was going on. Ok, the family is doing well and there were servants running around so he asked one of them. Still, notice that he did not go to his father first.
Note the servant’s response in Luke 15:27; And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ That’s ALL he said. There is no indication anywhere that he passed on any additional information. There is nothing in scripture to indicate that the prodigal son revealed the sordid details of his journey to the Father, let alone the hired hands.
The Brother’s Response
Note the response given by the brother of the Prodigal Son. First, he simply refused to go in and join the party. Scripture indicates that he was “angry and would not go in (v28). Even when the Father entreats the brother to come inside, the son accuses the father of not celebrating his own accomplishments.
The coup de grâce however is verse 30 when the brother makes the assumption of what the Prodigal Son must have done with his life and money. His response reveals what was truly in his own heart;
But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’Luke 15:30 ESV
Our Response To God’s Generosity
The brother’s first response is to accuse the brother of blowing the Father’s money on prostitutes. Nowhere is that behavior indicated or stated, yet that’s the first thing he thinks of. This would seem to indicate that’s what was in his heart, and how he would spend that money, given the opportunity.
We realize at this point that the brother is no better than the Prodigal Son. Sure he stayed at home, but he was bitter…and his desires were just as bad as his brother’s. We aren’t much different most of the time are we? We all have a carnal nature that can run loose, especially in times of plenty. Though we may not run out and seek prostitutes necessarily, when unsupervised without a father to answer too, we are destructive.
The Prodigal Son made mistakes, but he repented and came home. The brother simply stewed in his unhappiness, bitter and resentful. Fortunately we have a loving Father, who concludes this parable with the following words to the brother;
31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”Luke 15:31-32 ESV
I take away some additional thoughts from this parable. The Father understood both of his sons, and loved them in ways that were meaningful to each of them individually. The prodigal son needed to flee the nest and stretch his wings a bit, trying to find his own life and his own ‘religion’, before coming back to the Father. The older son leaned on his parent’s ways and parent’s religion, without experiencing the need for repentance on his own. When pressed, he has to be reminded of the Father’s provision for him as well.