Lot’s of Christians, Evangelicals especially, identify on the wrong side of many of Jesus’ parables. The story of the Prodigal Son is a great example. Folks identify with the lost son who came to his senses and returned to his father. Few care to admit they’re actually the resentful and conniving elder brother.
The parable of the prodigal son is a story about two sons, not one. The younger, lost son, and the elder son. The elder son was the brother who yelled at his father for throwing a party for his deadbeat brother who returned from wild living where he squandered his inheritance. Here’s what the elder brother screams in his father’s face:
Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!
There are certainly many who were indeed lost and are now found. However, there are many, many more believers who are arrogant, mean-spirited, and trying to buy God’s grace – just like the elder brother. Tim Keller notes in his book, The Prodigal God, that elder brothers assume a debt is owed to them by God for their steadfast faithfulness and good works. They’re playing the classic game of I do this, now you do that. God never plays that game. We’d never win if he did.
Theologian Gordon Fee, in his past lectures as a professor, talks about a sermon he once heard on the prodigal son. The preacher asked the question, “What would have happened if the son returned home to find his father had died and that he was left in the hands of his elder brother?” Rather than fall into the arms of a loving and merciful God, the lost son would be at the mercy of a bitter and resentful elder brother.
Fee goes on to say that this story reminds us that non believers are not so afraid to fall into the hands of God. Rather, they’re afraid of falling into the hands of God’s people.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson