Summary: A message that takes a look at the prodigal son parable from the perspective of the other son.
(This message was preached at a United Service with Anglican’s & URC from our town - including my old College Principal!)
Luke 15 : 11 - 32
Religious people criticized Jesus because he ate with sinners & so He told this story.
A story so familiar to us who have been attending churches – yes? Most, if not all of us could re-tell the story, missing nothing out, for we know it so well. I must say I was surprised to notice this is only the second time I’ve preached on it in all my years as a preacher.
It is of course known as the parable of the Prodigal Son – that is, the youngest son.
The one who wasted his living in a foreign land & ended up going from bad to worse until - at last - he comes to his senses & goes home. He hoped that then he could put his life together again – even if it must be as a servant - for he knows that in his father’s house, even servants live better than he was. In reading this account, we more often than not think of things from his perspective.
A lot of parents find themselves seeing things from the perspective of the parent in the story. Those of us whose own children have gone, or are going wrong ; we hear the Father & the Mother’s cry & echo their prayers. Personally having had a son leave home & do things we wish he hadn’t & wasn’t doing, the parable offers us great comfort & hope that one day we will see him returning to us & our job now is to wait & pray.
Today though I want us to think about the other person in this story – the Elder Son.
What about the oldest brother? Do any of us identify with him? Well we should, & I’ll tell you why.
This one gets up & goes to work every day & tries to be responsible. Indeed, he feels he must be all that is expected of him, so when his brat of a brother asks for his inheritance early, while his father was still alive, he takes that as being selfish & an insult – the same as wishing his father was dead. You can almost hear him moaning about his younger brother being irresponsible as ever.
But now he comes home, & his Father throws a party for him. Can you understand the rage that burns in the older brother’s chest? he throws a party!?
‘Nobody ever threw a party for me - nobody ever appreciates that I stuck around & did what I was supposed to do. I didn’t waste Dad’s money - I worked hard in the fields every day, & do you think anybody ever sacrificed anything for me, so that I could have a party with my friends? No way! No one cares about me.’
I have to say that everywhere I have ministered, I have recognised that sentiment in some of the people in the Church.
‘I have been working hard – at the coalface of the Church’
‘I have put in the hours & it’s just not fair’
‘Why should we change for these Johnny come-latelys?’
‘Why do the youngsters always have to have their way?’
‘Why don’t the young people want to do the jobs – all they do is take, take, take’
‘Why should they come in & enjoy the benefits of all our work?’
Sound familiar? It should because I am convinced that at least a little bit of the older brother lives in our hearts; that responsible part in all of us, which doesn’t like it when somebody else gets something for nothing.
‘Why change the worship for those who don’t come’
‘What have they got to do with anything – it was good enough for me’
I have even heard again in almost all of the places God has called me to serve ’as long as the Church is there for me when I die’ - what a terrible thing to say.
Terrible because the parable teaches us that we need to be searching, looking out for those who have yet to taste the love & joy of God. Perhaps we are like the elder brother because we have forgotten or are yet to taste the real joy of being a disciple for ourselves.
Of course the tax collectors & sinners with whom Jesus ate are not simply friendly folk who have been misunderstood. Publicans were making a good living, taking money from their own people for the sake of the occupying forces. Sinners were those whose behaviour had got them ejected from the synagogue. The Pharisees & Scribes quite naturally & logically could see the corrosive effect of not distinguishing between good & evil people. Wouldn’t we?