The Prodigal Son Series: The Older Brother
The Older Son is the next character in the Prodigal Son parable we will be examining. The first time we get introduced to the Older son in the parable is when the youngest son demands his inheritance and the Father splits the wealth and property between the two sons. The next time we will hear about this son is in saddest of ways.
The Older son has been out working in the field. He is a loyal and hardworking son. As he comes near the house he hears a loud commotion. He is hearing celebration and music. He inquires of one of his servants what is going on. Clearly, he has been working out in the field away from the house and has missed something. The servant tells him his brother has returned and they are throwing a party by providing their biggest calf for the party. Now that is a slap in the face! If we remember at the beginning of the story half of the everything the Father owns will go to the Older Son. The robe, the rings, the sandals, and that calf are technically all supposed to be the older brothers, but it is being given to the Younger Son. Traditionally the oldest brother in the family is tasked with the taking care of the family and therefore gets the better perks of inheritance. However, the father is now dipping into his inheritance to help his partying and wasteful brother.
Knowing all this the brother refuses to go to the party. His father comes out to invite him in but he responds with his anger. "Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!"(Luke 15:29-30 NIV)
We instantly see the Older Son distancing himself in relationship to the Father. He, in a reversal, degrades himself like the Younger Son to the status of a slave. Then when talking about the younger brother, the Older Son calls him "this son of yours." The Older brother has disowned his younger sibling as the ones did to the family. The Father responds by acknowledging the son and his obedience, work, and reinforces his love for him. At the same time the Father reminds him that this all could have happened for him. All of this is the Older Son's so if he wanted to throw a party, he should have. If he wanted a goat, he should have had his goat. No one is stopping him from enjoying his property and money. Equally, no one is stopping the Older Son from enjoying the party being thrown in his house. However, he also reminds him that there should be a celebration for the return of their lost family member.
The older brother reminds us of our own need to be recognized. It is human to want to be valued and recognized. However, the brother goes in the wrong direction. He believes his brother is being celebrated or rewarded for disowning the family and living a life of partying and questionable morals. However, the older brother recognizes that no reward has been given him for doing all the right things.Yet, he had the ability to enjoy and celebrate what he had. The only one pooping on the Older Son's parade is himself. I feel like this disconnect is common in our lives. All too often I hear stories of people upset that they have done all the right things but are never rewarded for it. I also hear stories of people so stressed out and overworked that they never enjoy what they have earned. Meanwhile, those that have contributed less or lived less than great moral lives with less than great actions are given handouts or promotions. We cry injustice and seek fairness in these situations. I think the power of this story does not focus on what others have but celebrate any and all who choose to do the right things. The Father never once disregards the eldest child or loves him less. He simply invites his son to share in the party that is going on by enjoying what he has.
I feel there is a big message in the scriptures that point us to something real and concrete. Many times we have division and animosity with our fellow humans, brothers and sisters in humanity, and children of God because we feel like the world is limited. That success, status, and love are finite. I think the power of this story is that it reminds us that love is infinite. That when we all succeed and thrive that is a good thing. That when we all thrive and succeed it is to the betterment of all. The brother is worried about his status, his hard work, his wealth, and his image.The older brother complains that he does not get to party and enjoy life. The truth is however, the only one stipping him from enjoying life is himself. All the while, his younger brothers actions do not limit his ability to enjoy all the goodness in his life.
Yet, the Father of abundance invites the older brother to see beyond himself, to seek reconciliation, and to join the party that has nothing to do with his work, his accomplishments, or his inheritance but has everything to do with his brother returning to their family.