The Prodigal Son’s Brother

The Prodigal Son's Brother

We often hear the parable of the prodigal son, but rarely do we stop to consider the other son. This other son is rarely focused on, possibly because it doesn’t fit well into how we perceive Father.
The prodigal son of coarse takes his part of his father’s inheritance, travels to a foreign land, and wastes it. Once his life is to the point that he’s living in the mud with pigs, he returns home in hopes that his father will take pity and hopefully make him a lowly servant. However, the father fully restores him as a son and throws a lavish party. Further, his father never even considers that his son-ship was ever lost.
Most know this part of the story, but it is the elder brother’s story, that is often overlooked, that I wanted to focus on here as he is an integral part of Jesus’ parable.
The older brother returns from the field, hears the music and dancing of the party, and asks a servant what’s going on. The servant tells him that his brother has returned home and the father is throwing a party (Luke 15:25-27). It’s here that the story gets even more interesting.
But he was angry, and would not go in. Therefore his father came out, and begged him.–Luke 15:28 (emphasis mine).
Notice in this verse that the brother was angry and the father came out from the party and begged him to join in. It’s commonly accepted that the father in this story represents God. Not only did the father run to and embrace his dirty, prodigal son (which was considered disgraceful during this time period), but he leaves the splendor of the party to go out and beg his other son to come and celebrate his brother being found. In both cases, the father comes down to meet his sons in their misunderstanding of who he is.
But he answered his father, ‘Behold, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed a commandment of yours, but you never gave me a goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.–Luke 15:29 (emphasis mine).
Again, there are some very interesting things going on here that can be easily overlooked or just outright ignored if the rest of the story isn’t considered. The elder brother thought that he had earned such a party in honor of himself since he had served and obeyed. The very least his father could have done was give him a measly goat to celebrate with his friends. We see here that the elder son was far more religious than the younger and thought that he had earned his way to a grand reward. In the elder son’s eyes, the younger brother hadn’t earned it—and he is exactly right, the younger son hadn’t. However, the point here is that neither son had earned it because works can’t earn it. It was the father’s joy to give to either of his sons. This is known as (the scandal of) Father’s Grace. It can’t be earned through religious works and when someone does think they deserve it, they ironically lose out on it.
Further, the elder son was jealous that the father had given to the younger son. He would have rather seen him rejected by the father because of his lack of compliance. In this way he was trying to withhold the father’s grace from his own brother who he had decided didn’t deserve it. However, it isn’t we humans who decide how Father distributes his Grace; it is Father who decides that. This same concept is stated in the parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:15 ).
But when this your son came, who has devoured your living with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’–Luke 15:30 (emphasis mine).
I emphasized the reference to the younger brother in the above paragraphs to note that the elder brother wouldn’t even acknowledge the prodigal son as his sibling. This is strikingly similar to how we tend to judge others who “devour their lives with sin” when in actuality they are our lost siblings.
“He said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.–Luke 15:31
There is another beautiful, yet easily overlooked concept in this verse. When we are with the Father, all that he has is ours. That is, the relationship of being with Father is the reward. The elder brother was only working out of religious obligation because he thought he had to in order to earn his way in. He could have been enjoying life with his father instead of living in resentment of his sibling “out in the world partying.” Do we still do this same thing today? Do we live in resentment of our “siblings” out in the world partying their inheritance away while we “slave away” for God? Just imagine if the elder brother had cared to know his father’s heart and gone out to seek his lost sibling himself.
But it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.’ ”–Luke 15:32
This verse along with the rest of these scriptures make some interesting points.
-Do we try to mandate how God is allowed to show his Grace to others?
-Are we jealous when those we think don’t deserve it get a “blessing”?
-Are our hearts enjoying the relationship with Father and extending that to our lost siblings, or are we attempting to withhold grace from those we’ve labeled as “worldly” and doomed for hell?
-Are we holding ourselves outside of celebrating life with God because we are so focused on our works based religion?
When I was able to honestly answer these questions for myself, I was able to start living in an amazing relationship with Father through Jesus. Now I’m trying to extend that relationship outwards to others so they can come join the party!
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