Summary: We don’t usually hear much about the older son, but hey, he had a right to be miffed! Didn’t he...?
(A backwards glance at the parable of the Prodigal)
22 “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 “And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. 27 “And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 “But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. 29 “But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; 30 but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ 31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 ‘But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’ ”
Commentator Norval Geldenhuys declares the parable of the Prodigal Son to be the “Gospel within the Gospel”, saying, ‘…in it so many Gospel truths are proclaimed in such a beautiful and graphic manner”. Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, - Geldenhuys, Eerdmans, 1977
It would go without saying, although I now say it, that this observation of Geldenhuys provides the very reason that the story of the Prodigal has been told so often and by so many.
Jesus, during His earthly ministry, was the quintessential storyteller and the most profound of public speakers.
Any doubt that this statement is true must be washed away completely in just the astonished declaration of the temple guard who, when sent to arrest Him came back empty-handed and citing as their defense for their neglect of duty a conviction that “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks”. (Luke 7:46)
Statements like that and the observance of Matthew that the multitudes were astounded at the authoritative teaching of Jesus cause me to wonder how much clarity and emphasis is lost in the translation to modern day language.
Can you imagine? The Lord of the universe, sitting down and opening His mouth to teach!
And here we find ourselves today, back at this much-used story, preparing to plunge its depths once more to see what nuggets we can glean.
I want to come at it just a little differently today however, because I feel like there is someone in the story who doesn’t usually get his equal share of the attention; indeed, not nearly the attention he deserves.
Because, as I hope you will see as we go, where the prodigal suggests the backslidden saint repenting and returning to the fold, and I know that this is commonly taught as a reference to the unregenerate sinner coming to God for the first time but I do not see that as the primary message being taught (see the wording of verse 21), although it is a valid application, and where the father is of course representative of our Father in Heaven, ever anxious to receive the repentant back with gladness and rejoicing, the older son, so grievously neglected, is more like the rest of us.
So you see, it really behooves us to take a backward glance at this story, as the Father walks off with the newly returned son who is wearing the ring and the robe and the new sandals, stomach growling for some of that calf he smells cooking in the back yard, and take a longer look at this angry, insulted man, fists clenched tightly at his sides, face red, neck purple, muttering under his breath, stomach churning, not with hunger but with rage, and see what he has to teach us in AD 2006.
THE STORY THUS FAR
Now I don’t want to be guilty of assuming that everyone hearing or reading this is familiar with this parable that Jesus is telling. He is telling it in response to the Pharisees and Scribes who are standing about, grumbling because Jesus is eating with sinners.
By ‘sinners’ they meant, as we can see in verse one of the chapter, tax collectors and irreligious Jews. Keep this in mind as we will be referring to it later.