The Prodigal Son: The Prideful Brother

The Preacher’s Kid:

“I’m a preacher’s kid,” I’d say as my usual excuse when recounting one of my “off the rails” experiences to someone. I used it as an excuse for my wayward behavior. Growing up in the church, I’m fully aware of the Prodigal Son parable in Luke 15:11-32, and for many years I related to the younger son—the son who collected his inheritance early and left to experience what the world had to offer, only to find himself humbled and back at the father’s house asking to be hired as his father’s servant.

It never occurred to me, until recently, that I identify more with the eldest son, who stayed behind, perhaps because I’m a preacher’s kid. You see, it’s easier to identify with the youngest, because we have all gone astray at some time. But how often do we really examine our heart issues? I believe the older brother was equally distanced from his father, despite staying home and doing all that the father had asked of him. He worked for his father, but neglected their relationship. I love this parable because the father had compassion for both brothers. Don’t we all yearn for this embrace and the total restoration that comes from the Lord?

 The Eldest Son and His Pride:

Returning to the older son who stayed behind and did all his father asked, we find that he doesn’t have the same attitude as his father towards his younger brother. “The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away our money on whore’s show’s up and you go all out with a feast!’” Luke 15:25-27 (The Message)

I admit, I identify with the eldest when it comes to the pride in my heart. I become confused and even angry with the Lord when I feel like I’m not getting the recognition or praise I deserve. My pride tells me that because I’ve followed the letter of the law I should expect blessings and favor, which makes God a supernatural vending machine in the sky, wherein you choose what you want from Him. I recognize pride rises up within me when I’m keeping an account of the “good deeds” I’ve done, while hoping for blessings in areas of my life. I’ve said to the Lord before, “Look at me. I’ve quit drinking, I’ve quit smoking, I’m giving my time and money to the church and I’m not even watching porn, for crying out loud! Where’s my blessing?

Wouldn’t it be easier if God only required us to follow a list of rules and regulations? Then we’d always know where we stand in the eyes of God.

The Message of Forgiveness and Restoration:

If I stay in that mindset, I miss out on the greater message, which is God’s forgiveness and restoration for all. The concept of grace for anyone who repents and asks for forgiveness can be tough to swallow at times. All too easily I stumble when I see God’s favor rest on someone that I perceive as undeserving, like the younger son. I find it disconcerting that after all the grace I’ve received—the forgiveness of sins and blessings that come with restoration—I can still sit in judgement of others.

My past experiences reveal the self-righteousness I’ve felt, and it seems to be commonplace within today’s houses of worship. Philip Yancey says it best, “Somehow we have created a community of respectability in the church. The down-and-out who flocked to Jesus when he lived on earth, no longer feel welcome. What would it take for the church to become a place where prostitutes, tax collectors and even the guilt-tinged Pharisees would gladly gather?” (The Jesus I Never Knew)

I’m afraid in today’s church we would not allow someone like King David to be in ministry, as if his brokenness was too great for him to be used by the Lord. Have we forgotten that we are nonetheless guilty if we’ve committed the sin in our minds? I love the lyrics in this song by Bono, of U2, “Don’t believe in forced entry? Don’t believe in rape? But every time she passes by wild thoughts escape.”

Have us men been guilty of this?

I know I have.

The Targets of the Parable:

With regards to the Prodigal Parable, “The targets of this story are not just the ‘wayward sinners’ but religious people who do everything the Bible requires. Jesus is pleading not so much with immoral outsiders as with moral insiders. He wants to show them their blindness, narrowness, and self-righteousness, and how these things are destroying both their own souls and the lives of the people around them.” Timothy Keller. (The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith.)

I find comfort that I’m not alone in my feelings of being the “older brother,” but that should push me towards humility so that by faith I can receive the grace and restoration that only comes from the Father above. The Bible says, “All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing!” Eph. 2:8-9 (The Message) As we reflect on the Parable of the Prodigal Son and its message of compassion for both brothers, may we come to the Father often and with joy at His love for us, regardless of which brother we may be at the moment.

  This article was written by Jason Umidi. You can read more about Jason in his bio which can be found in the “About Us” tab.

References:

Philip Yancey-“The Jesus I Never Knew”

US-God, Part 2

Timothy Keller-“The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith”

 

February 2021
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