“The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration. But he argued back, ‘Listen, all these years I’ve worked hard for you. I’ve never disobeyed one of your orders. But how many times have you even given me a little goat to roast for a party with my friends? Not once! This is not fair! So this son of yours comes, this wasteful delinquent who has spent your hard-earned wealth on loose women, and what do you do? You butcher the fattest calf from our herd!’” (Luke 15:28-30, The Voice).
“All these years I have WORKED for you.” This line is foundational to the elder brother’s sense of entitlement. “I have earned my right to more than you’ve given in return.”
The Protestant work ethic, coupled with capitalism, creates the self-made man who pulls himself up by his own “bootstraps.” Forgiveness and mercy is foreign to many who have “paid” their dues and earned their right to entitlement.
The prodigal was selfish, wasteful, and impatient. Still, the elder son represents the hard-nosed Pharisee who tithes “mint and anise” yet ignores the weightier matters of the law—mercy, and justice.
Which “Brother” Are You?
The divide between the two sons couldn’t be deeper. The younger son—broken, repentant, and willing to work as a servant—considers it a privilege to labor for his father. In contrast, the elder son is exacting, arrogant, dutiful, yet rigid in his relationship with his family. Over the years, he has kept a tally of other people’s actions—which he uses as a weapon when he believes he has been wronged. Grace is foreign to him, even though his father has demonstrated it to both sons.
These two sons are symbolic of the two groups of people found in religious circles today. Like the prodigal son, many have spent time in “a far country” before coming to their senses and seeking to retrace their steps home. And like the elder son, many are disgusted with those who are weak-willed and errant. “What’s the matter with you? You need to try harder, pray more, and earn your right to sit at the table.” They feel entitled and view grace as extravagant and wasteful.
The parable ends. Jesus never reveals how it came out. Did the older brother join the party and reconcile with his younger, wayward brother? Or did he stay outside, fuming over the seeming injustice of his father’s extravagant love? The story remains unresolved because it is, in fact, an invitation—an invitation to the Pharisees and other opponents of Jesus to join Him in welcoming sinners and other outsiders into the joyful party of the Kingdom” (The Voice).
Rich DuBose writes from Northern California.© 2002 - 2023, AnswersForMe.org. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.