The Prodigal Son: Are You a Religious Older Brother (or Sister)?

If you aren’t familiar with the story of the prodigal son you should go read it now.  Keep in mind while reading who you feel you relate to the most.  I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of people would relate with the prodigal son himself.  Who among us hasn’t felt far from God at some point in our Christian journey and been comforted to know that God’s grace is greater still?  It brings great peace and comfort to know that the father in this story represents God and His love toward us is truly prodigal (lavishly abundant).  We relate easily and near automatically to the prodigal son.  Maybe that’s the problem…

I wonder how many of us, upon reading this story, immediately relate with the older brother (verses 25-32)?  In fact, I’d expect that this thought hasn’t even crossed your mind before.  His attitude is despicable.  He’s cruel, unloving and unforgiving.  Why would we ever see ourselves in him?

We have the tendency as humans to relate to either the hero or the victim in a story but hardly ever see ourselves as the villain.  I mentioned in a previous post that there is only one Hero (Jesus) and the rest of us are villains.  We might learn something about ourselves and our tendencies if we start reading the stories in the Bible with this in mind.  Let’s get back to the story and see how this can be applied.

I was at my father-in-law’s church a couple Sundays ago as he preached out of this passage.  He asked a question that struck me.  He said, “What would have happened if, upon his return, the prodigal son had met his older brother before he met his father?  Do you think he would’ve ever made it home?”

Picture the scene.  The father sees his son afar off and runs to meet him in the road and welcome him home with open arms, a party, and a meal.  The grace of God on display for all to see.  But what if the father in the story had been tending the sheep, or rebuilding a fence in the pasture, or a thousand other household chores and the brother saw him coming first.

There certainly would have been no running to greet him.  The older brother would be sure his younger sibling finished the journey alone, feeling the full weight of his guilt and shame as a kind of penance for what he had done.  I can imagine the older brother saying, as the prodigal came within ear shot, “Would you look at this!  The prodigal son returns, empty-handed and broken-hearted.  Boy you look pathetic.  I can’t wait until father gets a look at you.  He’s gonna let you have it!  I can’t believe the nerve you have coming back here after everything you’ve done!  You’ve humiliated father, you’ve embarrassed me, and you have nothing to show for it.  You’ve squandered everything our father worked so hard to build.”

Having first met a message like this, do you think he would’ve ever made it to the father?  Would he have pressed on, doing anything to get to dad or would he leave in shame thinking there was no place at the table for him anymore?

Here’s the point. How many of us are guilty of acting like a religious older brother or sister to a prodigal who realizes their sin for what it is, wants to come home, but we won’t let them because of our religiosity?  How many in our day are turned off by the church, not because of Jesus or God (though many are) but because of all of their religious older siblings?  If the Father is willing to accept the prodigals bloodied and battered, if He accepted you bloodied and battered, then why don’t we?  No matter how prodigal we are in our sin, God’s love and grace is prodigal all the more because of Christ’s brutal death on the cross in our place…you certainly understand this includes you, but it also includes those whom you may deem “less deserving” than yourself (as if there were such a thing!).

Remember that the church ought to be a hospital for sinners, not a health club for saints.

What if the prodigal son had met you on his way home?



4 responses to “The Prodigal Son: Are You a Religious Older Brother (or Sister)?

  1. Thanks for digging a little deeper into God’s Word and the message He laid upon my heart to share beyond the “normal prodigal son.” Yes, all of us need the prodigal father’s abundant grace! And pray that we in the church may open wide the doors of our hearts to “the prodigals bloodied and battered” in this life when they finally come to their senses and want to come home.

  2. Great reminder Kevin. I have never seen the parallel between older sibling and our tendancy in the American church. Good conviciting stuff. Hospital not health club!

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