He's working. Doing the right thing, yes, but...when his brother returns, as one from the dead, according to Dad, he is conspicuously absent. When the father is speaking a blessing over the son, while the servants array the young man in the garments of acceptance, and while the feast preparations are progressing...yes, you guessed it, he is conspicuously absent. “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing."
OK, let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he was way out in the fields, and didn't hear nor see what was taking place. But, as he wipes his brow, and nears the shed to put away his tools, the happy sounds catch his attention. "So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ The older brother became angry and refused to go in." Uh-oh. He is tired, dirty and now angry that this younger brother, whose hurt permeated the house and clung to his father like runaway smoke, now comes back to not to punishment, but to a party. The older son stands outside, angrier than a wasp caught under a welcome mat.
"So his father went out and pleaded with him." "Plead" is a strong word, and implies that the father's heartfelt request that the older son join them was ignored. I see the older son staring at his father in stoney silence, so furious that he must measure every word, lest he be disrespectful. But then the anger and the hurt, long stored away against the younger brother, comes roaring out: "But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’"
There it is: it is really about ME. I have worked--more than that, I have slaved in those dusty fields! I have been obedient and I never have parties and I, I, I...
The older son's focus is on himself and all of the shortcomings of his father's, and all the suffering of the older son's. Then, with the younger son's appearance, whose character is soiled with cavorting with prostitutes (something I would never do!) and whose profligate spending has landed this family in trouble (I am slaving away in the fields to help you recover the loss of our family's money!) and who gets the best this family has (Hasn't that younger son taken ENOUGH? I didn't even ask for a goat...You never even offered me a lousy goat!)
The older son, while justifiably angry at what the young son did, is really more disgusted at his FATHER, who he perceives as unjust in his treatment of his sons. The father seemingly rewards the one who is irresponsible and tends to ignore the dutiful one. But, is that really the case?
“‘My son,’ the father said..." Let's stop there. The father says, "My son," reminding him that his position in the family is no more or no less important to the father's heart. Then the father gently reminds him that all the father has is his: "you are always with me, and everything I have is yours." Why has the older son forgotten this?
Each day, as he trudged out to the field, did his heart grow more distant, almost imperceptibly at first, from the father? Was he spending more time out in the fields than with his father? But there is so much work to do! And without that stupid kid to help me! Doesn't Dad see how much I am working? Does he even CARE? Soon, were the older son's actions still dutiful but his heart, hardening under the sin of anger and hurt, rendering him more and more incline to stay away from the father? Did he secretly blame the father? If you hadn't given in and given him the money in the first place...The older son's relationship with his father was predicated on DUTY, which the older son, over time, mistook for LOVE. But love, burdened under a self-imposed list of duties, will become increasingly preoccupied with finishing the duties and now, too tired and resentful, will grow cold.
The father cuts to the heart of the matter, reminding him that the father is always with him and what the father has is indeed the son's. The father loves him and this love is not based on the son fulfilling duties. It is based simply on the bountiful love that the father has for his children. The father's love simply IS. But, love must rejoice! "'But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” The father's love is expressed in two beautiful ways here. First, to the oldest: I am yours, son, and you are mine. Just ask. My love will respond. But, if you don't ask, I will not force myself upon you. I will wait. But a hardened heart is still sin. Guard your heart. But, if you should ever stray again, I will again forgive you. My love for you can do no less.
And to the youngest: Your actions speak loudly of your repentance, and I will celebrate the new life welling up in you. True joy in found in my presence. But, if you should ever again stray, I will again forgive you. My love for you can do no less.
This parable is about two lost sons who have wandered away from the father's loving arms. God's love is perfect: He will wait for however long it takes and will forgive us when we seek Him.
He is 1 Corinthians 13's definition of love: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
For more posts in my parable series, click here.