The Elder Brother and I

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Luke 15:11-32  The Parable of the Prodigal Son

Many of us know the parable Jesus told about two sons.  The younger son went to his father and asked to be given his share of the inheritance now – saying in effect that his only interest in his father was in what the father had and that he didn’t want to wait for his father to die.  The father should have kicked him out and disinherited him but instead he liquefied a third of his assets and gave them to the son who promptly went out and spent it all on wine, women and song.  Starving and left with nothing, the boy returned home to humbly ask his father to hire him on a farmhand since he did not deserve to be a son.  The father, unpredictably, ran to the son on the road, showered him with hugs and kisses and threw a party.  The older brother (the first heir and in line to inherit the remaining two thirds of the assets) came back to the house, saw what was happening and threw a hissy fit.  “I’m the good one.  How dare you take him back?” he said in effect.  Instead of getting angry, the father pleads with him to show love to both his brother and his father because judging by the elder brother’s behavior, he didn’t love either one of them.

I was raised in the faith.  I’ve toed the line.  I have chosen to live in accordance with the teaching of the faith.  Just like the elder brother.  The elder brother scares the crap out of me.  I know I run the risk of being the elder brother.  I have known a lot of elder brothers in the churches I’ve attended.  I don’t like them and I understand why people don’t like Jesus because they think he’s like the elder brother.  My advantage is that I know Jesus and he’s not like the elder brother at all.

But remember in the story, the father loved both sons and he wanted the sons to love each other.  They didn’t have to agree.  They didn’t have to live the same life or have the same viewpoints.  But to please the father, they had to love each other.  We never learn the younger son’s view of the elder but the elder makes no bones about his view of the younger.

We need to remember that the father’s house was big enough for both of them with all their differences.  God’s heart is big enough for all of us.  We’re going to differ – politically, philosophically and theologically but we need to remember that God’s heart is big enough for all of us.  We need to love the fact that God loves even the “brothers” that don’t appeal to us, that don’t fit in with our view of the world.  We need to understand that the young brothers who turn back and come to God are turning back from things the elder brother would never do.  They have baggage.  We need to celebrate the return even if we can’t celebrate the baggage.

We need the younger brother because we need his humility, his repentance and his willingness to turn back.

Why?  Because the elder brother needed all these things too.  The elder brother needed to remember that he served the father out of love, not just duty and hope of eventual inheritance.  If the elder brother could not love the father, then he had run as far away from home as the younger brother.  The difference?  At least the younger brother enjoyed his exile at the time.  The elder brother had no joy in his own exile from the father and his exile would never end because he didn’t even know how far away he was from the father.  At least the younger brother came home.  I don’t know if the elder brother ever did.

The elder brother is a reminder to me that I can become the elder brother.  I will never lose God’s love but I can lose my love for God and my brother.  I can exile myself.  God save me from that.  Save me from myself.  Amen.

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