Summary: Sometimes, we want a Hollywood ending in life and we don’t get one. This is the problem with the Parable of the Prodigal Son as we look atb it from the older son
How many of you like Hollywood endings when you go to the movies? You know, the joy-filled, love engaged and relationship mending that leaves you with a warm, feel-good heart and smile on your face? The problem is, life doesn’t always give us a Hollywood ending. Sometimes, life gives us a plot twist that we don’t see coming: the good guy doesn’t win, the problem doesn’t get solved, the bad guy isn’t going to get what’s coming to him. Sometimes, we want a Hollywood ending in life and we don’t get one.
This is the problem with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The younger son asked for his inheritance early which in effect is saying to his father, “I wish you were dead!” He went to Vegas where it was was laissez les bon temps roulez. He went broke and was starving, but eventually came to his senses and returned to his father. He asked him for forgiveness and was received with grace and open arms. A broken family was reunited and if this story were a movie, the music would cue and everyone’s happy as the credits roll. But that’s not how it ends. There’s a plot twist that no one saw coming. There are three things we learn from the older brother.
First, he lost his joy. The older brother was angry at his younger brother and why shouldn’t he be? His younger brother had hurt their father by his actions and he left to go have a good time while the older brother remained behind as the faithful son laboring each day. But what did the father do? He received his wayward son with open arms. The word “received” in Greek word is “hygiaino” - where we get our word hygiene. It’s used to translate the Hebrew word “Shalom” which means peace. “So when it says, “The Father received him,” it means “The Father offered peace between them.” This is what made the older brother mad. The brother who squandered his dad’s money would be allowed into this family again. And to add insult to injury, they are actually pulling out all of the stops and throwing a party for him.
Let me ask you a question: are you happy when great things happen to others? What if it happens to them and not to you? We’re in the middle of appointment season in the UM Church where pastors are assigned to new churches. Ministers watch the announcements for who gets appointed where and there is always conversation about who deserved what and who didn’t. Behind it all is jealousy. They got a raise or a larger church and you didn’t, and whether they deserved the church is immaterial. We can lose our joy when good things happen to others if we don’t celebrate them. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) It’s not that hard to weep with those who weep. We can hug them, pray with them, cry with them and be with them. But I’ve learned that it’s harder to rejoice with those who rejoice. It’s an older brother problem. When we can’t rejoice with those who rejoice, it’s because we think we deserve more. We started to think that because of our good deeds and faithfulness that God owes us something. We start to believe because we’ve been keeping the rules that we deserve to be blessed. And it kills our joy because the only joy we experience in life is when good things happen to us and we miss out on celebrating when good things happen to others.
Second, the older brother lost his focus. The older brother gets caught playing the comparison game. Instead of rejoicing that his brother came home, he was angry. All he could think is, “My brother lived wildly and my dad received him back. I’ve been here this whole time doing the right thing and there’s no benefit.” Have you ever noticed that when we compare what we have with what others have, we always pick out someone who has more than us. If we’re feeling sorry for ourselves and believing that we are deprived, we always pick out the family that has more. We say, “Why do the Jones’s have 2 cars, and they’re both Lexus’s and their house is a ½ million dollar mansion.” We fail to consider how many in this world have less than we do. One of the surest ways I know of to make yourself miserable and discontent is to start comparing yourself with others because you can always find someone who has more.
And this is what the older brother does. The comparison game focuses on what we don’t have rather than what we do have. In other words, we lose their focus. Instead of thinking, “I’m blessed to have a gracious father,” he compares himself to his brother. Nothing good comes out of comparing yourself with someone else! Comparing does one of two things: you either get depressed because you don’t measure up or you’re filled with pride because you’re so much better than the other person. Neither serves you or the purposes of the kingdom.