We have been so captured by the sentiment, warmth, and emotion of the story of the younger son, his wanderings, and the love with which he was accepted on his return, that we have missed what Jesus was raising as the crucial point: How will the older brothers of the world, the outwardly religious, respond to the grace of God?
In other words, the focal point of this story is not the younger brother, but the older one. That’s evident from the way this whole wonderful chapter begins. We are told at the outset that the tax collectors and sinners were gathered around Jesus—as they so often were—to hear Him. Theoretically, that should have made the religious leaders happy, but it didn’t. The “good people” couldn’t understand why Jesus was so pleased to associate with sinners.
Many of us are like this older brother. We live quite responsible lives, obey the basic laws, are generally moral, and probably work hard in community projects, service clubs, and half-a-hundred church committees. We’re in a position to sympathize with the older brother.
Jesus loved the older brother, to be sure. But it’s clear that Jesus was disappointed in him. There is something very wrong with this older brother, but what is it? The older brother had never really discovered the joys of home; no more, perhaps, than the younger brother before his days of wandering. He didn’t realize how fortunate he was to be here, living in the daily blessing of a loving father. He needed what his brother experienced in the pig pen: to “come to himself.”
It’s obvious that the younger son was wasting himself. He did it conspicuously and dramatically. But the older brother was wasting his life away, too—not as obviously, but just as tragically. While the younger brother wasted himself in crude, riotous living, the older one did so in mean, small, selfish living. That’s why I call this older brother “the prodigal who stayed at home.”
There’s a chance the same thing might be said of you and me. Growing up respectable, moral, and religious, we may in truth be just as prodigal—just as far from home—as if we had gone to the far country of corruption. If so, I have good news for us. The Father will welcome us home.
—Condensed from Parables From The Back Side by J. Ellsworth Kalas. Copyright (c) 1992 by Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN.
“This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them” (Luke 15:2).
These words were meant as a criticism, but it is truly our Saviour’s boast and glory that He does so. He came to this world that He might receive sinners and bring them into fellowship with Himself. That about sums up the whole truth of Christianity. Praise God, every poor sinner not only may draw near to Him, but may share in all the riches of the grace of God.
—August Van Ryn