About a year ago I wrote some of my thoughts on the story of the prodigal son. It is a rambling post which can be summed up by saying I get the older brother. Favoritism by a parent is WRONG, no excuses, and it is hard as the oldest child not to see your younger sibling as the favorite when they are getting free cars or whatever and you’ve been working ever since it was legal.

So, as I’ve mentioned, our group is going through Luke. I thought, months and months ago, that it would be ironic if our turn to lead fell on the week of the prodigal son. Last week I realized that would indeed be the case. No matter, I thought, I’ll just make Jake lead.

Then Jake got sick. Never say God doesn’t have a sense of humor.

So I found myself studying up on the story, albeit reluctantly (not gonna lie). I don’t exactly like this story yet, but I’m making progress as I learn. First of all, I realized I may be able to identify with the younger son a little more than I realized. He asks for his inheritance before his dad dies, which is basically saying “I wish you were dead” or “I don’t want to be your son.” I may not be so blatant but I do things to reject my standing in God’s family; for example, when I choose to wallow in bitterness, I am returning to something God has called me out of because He has a better life for His children. So maybe not quite as squeaky-clean as I thought.

The next thing I noticed is that BOTH brothers have a wrong view of their relationship to their father.

Treat me as one of your hired servants

These many years I have served you

The father makes it very clear he does not think of his sons as servants, but they both seem to think that “service” will get them something: the younger a place near the family, the elder a better place in the family. And really, this is stupid. God doesn’t NEED any of us to do anything for Him. There’s no “Help Wanted” sign out. Besides that, I can’t earn myself a “better” place in God’s affection any more than I can earn my initial salvation.

Also, I think this story has been done a grave disservice by many of its fans and also many of the pastors who talk about it. So often a friendly eye is cast on the younger brother, while the main “sermon” is sternly advising against adopting the elder brother’s wicked heart. The problem with that is if you can extend grace to the younger brother/tax collector/sinner but not the older brother/scribe/Pharisee, you are guilty of the same heart of which you accuse the older brother. Same attitude, different target.

And last but not least, I am beginning to see that the celebration isn’t really for the younger son. It is a father celebrating that ALL his children are with him again, that his family is complete. It’s not his party, it’s our party. The father goes to meet both his sons – one far-off and guilty, the other nearby but sulking. And maybe the important thing is that whether you’re walking a long road back or pouting in the yard, God still comes out to meet you – and to bring you into a party.