The Prodigal and Elder Son

Is there a more familiar parable then the story of the prodigal son? You know it well; you have heard it a thousand times. A young selfish man presumptuously takes his inheritance and squanders it in some far-off land. When his luck runs out and famine hits that country, he is forced to take a job well beneath his potential and dignity. 

In the depth of his folly, he finally realizes his actions were less than prudent and decides to return home. His father, who never forgot his son, runs out to meet him and throws a party for him, much to the chagrin of his older brother. The son who was lost is now found, the one who was dead, now lives again. A great story of conversion and forgiveness for the younger brother, and a story perhaps, about a misappropriation of justice for the older brother.

Although this parable specifically mentions two brothers, the main figure is the father who mirrors, of course, our Heavenly Father. This parable is not dealing with two sons in one situation, but rather two sons in their own depth of sin.

The relationship of the father to each of his beloved sons, is a one-on-one encounter, not a half encounter for the older son, and another half encounter for the younger son. It just so happens that we may view it as one situation— a wayward boy who has come home and a brother who resents his father’s reaction to his return. Two stories: one of conversion and repentance; the other about resentment and forgiveness.

Honestly, there  are characteristics of the older and younger son in each one of us. Individually, we have all been the one who has squandered the great gifts that God has given us. For flesh is indeed weak.

Spiritual sins are just as deadly. What about those times we have been resentful of some perceived grievance, seeking justice at all costs. The apparent snub festers within us as our victimhood grows. We become consumed with the thoughts and feelings we harbor always reminding ourselves how much damage the other has done.

Even though the sins of the sons and ours have been brought to the surface, it is far from the end of our story. Just as the father who never gave up on each of his sons, so too, does our Heavenly Father continue to hound us whether our sin is from the flesh or the spirit.

Indeed, the parable of the prodigal son is a story about God’s love and his infinite patience. It is a reassuring story because it shows us how intimately connected God remains with those whom he loves. The connection is not a generic one, but a relationship that is based on a one-on-one dynamic. Just you and God, forgiven and welcomed back no matter where we have been or what we may have done.

The parable of the prodigal son ends with the father outside pleading with his son to join the party. Did the older brother go inside? Or did he stay outside despising the good grace of the father? We do not know. For some they refuse God’s invitation and how tragic a choice.

Never refuse God’s invitation, whether we are returning from a life of debauchery or too dense to realize sin is not only manifested in the flesh.  

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