Here in Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 we have the story of the returning son. Also the jealous brother. Which are we?
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them Jesus addressed this parable.
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,
‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’
So the father divided the property between them.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”‘
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.'”
I count this story, sometimes called the story of the prodigal son, sometimes called the story of the forgiving father, as one of the most beautiful of the Gospels. I think it could also be called the story of the jealous brother. But ultimately, it must be called the story of forgiveness.
Jesus never tells us how the story ends, but I suspect the angry brother finally gives in and welcomes his lost brother home, also forgiving him. Jesus’s aim, of course, was to demonstrate to the Pharisees and scribes the value of every person and that in every sinner is the persona of the redeemed son — that is why Jesus spends His time among them, to give them the chance to be redeems. Jesus often says he comes not to save the righteous but the unrighteous.
So, if we are sometimes wont to condemn sinners, let us remember this story from Jesus’s own lips. If we count ourselves as the brother who always lives rightly and feel overly righteous in the presence of those who are not, Jesus tells us we do not know about the circumstances of the brother who has acted wrongly and his potential to “come home” a changed man. And if we see God lavishing on that brother, we shouldn’t be angry or jealous but be happy, for the Father is enormously happy that brother (or sister) has come home and is alive in Him. We should embrace that person with our hearts.
And lest we are heartbroken in God’s rejoicing, when we have been righteous all along (at least in our own eyes), remember the words of the father in this story. “You are here with me always. But now we must rejoice and celebrate.” God loves us. Every one of us. Even the lost sons and daughters. Sometimes the lost sons and daughters have left home, sometimes they have remained at home; but always, they have the father’s deep abiding love.
Glory to God!