When we think of the story, we often forget about the older son and his sin. I am referring to the what we often refer to as Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, recorded in Luke 15.
You know the story well. A younger son asks his father for his share of the inheritance, receives it, and then moves away from his family. He arrives in a distant country, befriends some suspect characters, and wastes away his inheritance living a wanton lifestyle. Finding himself in the depths of despair, he regains some sense of rightness and decides to return to his father and plead for forgiveness. His father welcomes him with open arms, restoring his lost son to his former place.
When we relate this story, do we not often stop here, with the celebration of the father over the return of his younger son? It seems that we conveniently forget (or, at least, downplay) the response of the older son.
Do you remember his reaction? He was upset at the gracious welcome extended by his father to his brother. After all, had this brother not forsaken his family and wasted what he had been given? Had his brother not brought shame to the family by his conduct? Jesus said, “the older brother became angry and refused to go in” to the welcome home celebration (Luke 15.28).
Perhaps we look past this chapter in the story because it is with the oldest son that we most often can relate. Let’s face it, relatively few of us have abandoned the Father’s house to live wantonly in a foreign land, but many of us have stood in judgment of those that have (either knowingly or through our neglect). Consider: Are we quick to embrace a “sinner” returning to the fold, or do we remain suspect and keep them at arm’s length? Are we quick to search them out (when they are living in that far country), or do we wait for them to come back on hands and knees?
The Father chastises the harshness of his older son. He condemns his unwillingness to forgive. Will God not respond to our unwillingness to forgive and to restore as sternly?