Last night I was truly touched when I read about the Prodigal Son in Luke 15: “By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, ‘He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends. Their grumbling triggered this story’ Of the Prodigal Son.” (Luke 15:1-3 MSG).
I had never noticed before to whom Jesus was addressing this parable. He was addressing it to the criticizing Pharisees and religious scholars: the ones who thought they knew everything, the ones who thought they were pure but were not. In such circumstances we need to look at the Prodigal Son parable with our focus on the older prideful son.
The first part of the story sets the scene. The younger son was frivolous and foolish, eager to experience what the world was offering. He was spiritually lost. He came to his senses once he realized that he had spent all his inheritance. He was truly a shipwreck with no hope in the horizon, and he concluded: “Better work for dad as an employee. At least I would have food that way!” What he didn’t expect is how his dad was overjoyed to see him come back home. He welcomed him with open arms and instead of being addressed as an employee, he honored him as his son. After all, his dad loved him deeply, no matter what he had done. It’s then that the younger son realized what he had missed. “My Father loves me beyond imagination!”
The older son, however, who had remained at home with his father, heard about his younger brother and he became quite upset, filled with hatred. “The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in.” (Luke 15:28 MSG) Just like the Pharisees! (See Luke 15:1-3). When his father came to him, he lashed out: “Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours (Isn’t he referring to his own younger brother?) who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!” (Luke 15:29-30 MSG)
The older son was bitter and prideful. It was all about him, not about his father. He had served his father for the wrong reasons. Love was nonexistent in his life. He was the one who was truly spiritually lost. He thought he could earn his father’s love, not realizing that his father loved him way more deeply than he thought. It’s not about what we can get from our Father: It’s all about experiencing our Dad, just like the youngest brother experienced Him.
The frivolous are the ones who are attracted to our Father. God will never reject them. He loves all of us genuinely. The prideful religious, however, are the ones who are spiritually lost. Unlike these sinners who are searching for their Heavenly Father, these arrogant religious are more interested in their own self-righteousness, missing the boat about experiencing their Heavenly Father. They are the ones who are truly lost!
“This is the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.” (Matthew 19:30 MSG)
In the meantime, the younger son is savoring in the grace of his Dad.
The story doesn’t end here, however. The older brother has a choice to make, but the story doesn’t reveal his decision. Will he eventually come to the party or not?
Our Father gives the religious the opportunity to either experience the real stuf or to continue their grumbling. After all, some Pharisees joined Jesus’ ranks. Nicodemus was one of them! Nothing is impossible with our Father!
When Hubert Humphrey, a former vice-president of the United States, died, most politicians gathered together to attend the funeral. Among them was Richard Nixon, the only president to ever be impeached. Most of the politicians tried to stay away from him; Jimmy Carter, however, the president at the time, noticed Nixon all by himself. Even though Nixon didn’t belong to his party, Jimmy Carter walked straight to him, shook hands and embraced him, and told him: “Welcome home, Mr. President. Welcome home!” He, too, knew what grace looked like
How will we react towards the “refuse” of our society? They, too, hunger for grace. After all, Jesus was considered “A friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’” (Luke 7:34 NIV)
Will you join the party?
(To access the entire “The Helpless Heroes and the Vindictive Prideful” devotional series, please click here.)