Luke 15:11-32New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother
11 Then Jesus[a] said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with[b] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[c] 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father[d] said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
Coming Home, coming home, never more to roam
Open wide thine arms of love, Lord I’m Coming home.
I love the parables, and one thing I love about them is that there is more than one story to be told within each parable. And the best way to learn about a parable is to select a part to play within in the story. So today instead of focusing on the brother who ran away, Let’s look at the brother who stayed at home.
It is often the oldest sibling to stays to care for their parents, or if there is only one girl it is often the daughter who stays at home. I think of the Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” and how George Bailey wanted nothing more than to go off and see the world. But trouble after trouble got in his way. His father died, his uncle lost a great deal of the Saving and Loan’s money, there was a run on the bank, his younger brother went off to war—each time George tried to break away there was something preventing him from leaving. Eventually he became bitter and when it seemed he could no longer solve all of the problems that faced him, he tried to take his own life. It was then that Clarence the angel stepped in and convinced him his life was worth saving by showing him how others’ lives would have changed had George never been born.
The parable son shows us a young man who is so self-centered he demands his inheritance while his father is still living. In Jesus’ culture this would have been the same thing as wishing one’s father was dead. But the father, whose love was greater than his son’s sin, gave his son what he demanded and let him go. Meanwhile, the older son stayed and worked for his father, giving him his loyalty, his companionship, and seemingly never complaining. It was his duty, after all.
One day the unexpected occurred. The young man who had left home, hoping to see the world, returned derelict, dirty, and disgraced. The father sees the young man in the distance and runs to greet him. Before the young man can fall on his face and beg forgiveness, the father hugs his son close to him, has new clothes brought to him, orders his ring to be placed upon his finger, and throws a party.
We know the rest of the story. The older son, expected to co-host the party, is so resentful he refuses to even attend. The parable ends with a question mark??? Did the older son get over his anger? Was the family all reconciled or did the older son allow bitterness to split the family? Did the father give the older son a greater inheritance when he died, therefore making up for the seeming discrepancy between what the two men had received?
It is alway easy for us to criticize the young man yet sympathize with the older brother. After all, where is the fairness in this story? But what point was Jesus trying to make?
Think for a moment of the audience. Jesus was speaking to Pharisees who were always concerned not with the spirit of the law, but with the letter of law. The Pharisees would clearly see the sin of the young man, but would the sin of the older brother be readily visible? After all, isn’t unforgiveness a sin? What about bitterness? What about anger? The importance of this story is not the forgiveness of the father, nor is it even that the younger son was willing to repent. The importance is the fact that the older brother was blind to his own sin, and therefore unwilling to repent.
Who is the real prodigal? The one who recognizes his sin and repents, or the one who believes he is sinless and therefore refuses to repent. Wasn’t the younger son the one who was honest, while the older son revealed himself to be not only resentful but dishonest? And neither son was aware of the depth of their father’s love. The younger one expected to return home to be a servant, and the older was unaware all he had to do was ask for a party, ask for anything and his father would have gladly given it.
It took an angel to show George Bailey how to appreciate what he had and to be grateful for the way he had lived his life. It took Jesus to point out to the Pharisees that all sinners do not look the same. What will it take for us to recognize our own sinfulness and ask Jesus to make us whole? Isn’t it time we stop seeing the sin in the life of others and begin to see the pharisee in the mirror? Whether we have traveled far away from the God of our youth, or we are still living with our parents, isn’t it time we came home? In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen