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Here's what Jesus said to the religious folks who "never left home": The party is not about you because you are with your Father always; this is about God's lost ones.
"Now his older son was in the field. As he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. He said to him, 'Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.'
"But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. He answered his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.'
"He said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I haveis yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, foryour brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.'" Luke 15:25-32 NKJV, condensed
The prodigal son had an angry and unforgiving brother. Who knows what would have happened if the returning prodigal had met him on the road first before his father arrived. It would not have been a pretty scene. This elder brother was like the blistering cold of a sharp winter blast and would likely have given the little bastard what he deserved.
We need to go back to the beginning of this chapter in order to understand the climax of this parable. Verses one and two report that tax collectors and sinners hung out with Jesus, so much so the religious folks reacted with indignation. They complained that Jesus loved the unrighteous more than the righteous! Shouldn't it be the other way around?
People usually put the emphasis on the younger brother, the prodigal one. But this tale is really about the sinner who stayed at home! Jesus held up the illustration of the elder brother as a mirror for the scribes and Pharisees and all others who feel angry and cheated by God's lack of favor.
In that mirror we see the older brother who would never have left his father's house to waste his money on wild living. Instead he was working late out in the fields. When he came in, tired from his labor, he heard music coming from the main house. A servant informed him it was party time. His wayward brother had arrived home and their father was in a jolly mood. In fact, they had roasted a calf, uncorked the wine and prepared a big spread.
The older brother's response: "All that merriment for his worthless, good-for-nothing son! Hell, Dad never did anything like that for me!" Evidently his father's constant love and companionship meant nothing and brought him no joy. The sins hiding in his heart erupted with a force as ugly and destructive as the wasteful acts of his prodigal brother. Standing outside in the dark he was just as far from home as if he had gone along to those distant ports.
His father, being grieved by his elder son's absence, went out to plead with him to try and understand, put aside his jealous rage, and join the celebration. But the elder brother was hurt. It all seemed like an incredible injustice. And the more he thought about it, the more his anger flared.
The father made his case: "Your brother had been lost and is now found. He was dead but is alive again." We do not know how effective his words were. This story lacks a final conclusion. You see, the parable of the father and his two sons does not end with the return of the prodigal. The curtain comes down while the father entreats his elder son to celebrate his brother's return.
Does #1 son persist in his stubborn behavior, remain outside and refuse to enter? Did he continue to feed the pain of what he perceived as neglect? And justify his negative response? No one knows. Jesus didn't finish the story.
Both brothers sinned. Both had their eyes on themselves, which may explain why they couldn't see the love their father had for them. You can tell from Jesus' stories he knows us through and through. The younger son seemed selfish and inconsiderate toward his father. The elder son was self-centered and refused to view the situation from his father's perspective.
But he's your brother! No, he's your son! It's a relationship issue that grapples with love. One of the best things a dad can do for his children is to love their mother well. In like manner in this situation, a good way for either brother to begin to love and appreciate the other is to get to know the loving kindness and tender mercies of their father.
What happens to the sinner who didn't leave home is important because when we look into that mirror, we see ourselves! We are the culprit. Whether we enter the house or remain outside is our choice. We fill the silence at the end of this passage. A lost one has been found. God is celebrating. What are we going to do? Our heavenly Father eagerly awaits our decision.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Name one party, dinner, or reunion you did not want to attend and state why you did not want to go.
The prodigal son experienced a reception full of joy and mercy from his father. Describe the welcome he got from his brother? How do you react when someone receives better than they deserve?
What was the older brother's opinion of his younger brother? How would he have known what his brother did after leaving home?Describe a personal experience and the emotions which surfaced when someone else received the recognition you felt you should have had.
Do you sympathize with the elder brother? Why or why not? What were his good points? What were his negatives? Why did he get so angry and feel no joy when his brother returned? React to the suggestion he may have been envious of some things his brother did while away from home and out of sight? Do we condemn people for doing something and at the same time wish we could do the same thing? Give some examples of this.
What ending would you like to put on this parable? What happened to the prodigal? To the elder brother? The father? Did either son become like their father? Did love ever win?
Jesus wanted the complaining scribes and Pharisees to see themselves in the elder brother. In what ways are people in our churches today like the elder brother? What attitudes have you noticed which tell people they are unwelcome?
If this is a living parable, what final lines are you writing with your life? Are you helping God celebrate? Are you outside the door complaining, stewing or pouting? Or simply oblivious to what's going on?
Jesus put the focus of his attention on finding the lost and then celebrating. To what extent is that the mission of your congregation?
Although the elder son had lived with his father all his life, he didn't seem to know him very well nor learn his character traits. How can we as children of God make sure that is not true of us also?