The Obstinate Brother

Background Verses: Luke 15:11-32

Let’s pick up where we left off last time with our study of Jesus’ poignant parable known as “The Prodigal Son.” Jesus shared his message of God’s grace and his redemptive purpose because the religious leaders of his day groused and complained that Jesus spent his time with “tax collectors and sinners.” This detailed parable shared his response, illustrating how God delights in the return of those who have lost their way.

The story and its message didn’t end at the surface. It wasn’t enough to remind the Pharisees of God’s patience and compassion. They needed to be reminded of their own skewed vision of God’s kingdom.

I’m not sure who said it or where I heard it, but someone once remarked that the parable of “The Prodigal Son” had to have received its name from the older brother. The title itself is an accusation, pointing self-righteous fingers at the wanton behavior of the lost. As such, it points out the very heart of those to whom its message was intended…the Pharisees. Drag the intent into the 21st century and we find a message for the church that spews judgment toward the lost in such a manner that it deprives them of the joy God wants them to experience within the fellowship of believers.

Certainly, the story Jesus told condemned the sin of the younger brother. His actions stood as a testimony to the selfishness in our hearts that delights in taking our own path of self-discovery and self-gratification, regardless of who we hurt or disrespect along the way. Lest anyone miss the point of His message, Jesus exposed the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and religious leaders who never seemed to understand that Jesus came to “seek and save that which was lost.” Never able to join in the celebration when the lost sheep, coin or son were found.

Let’s take a peak between the lines at the reaction Jesus described.

He watched absentmindedly.
Reacted on muscle memory.
Driving the small herd of sheep from
pasture to pen.
Shuffling right or left.
Holding out his staff,
with mind-numbing repetition.
Keeping the skittish herd moving down the path.
Returning home at the end of another day.

With constant resentment
simmering beneath the surface
and nothing else to distract his heart,
the man muttered another in a string of curses
directed at his brother for abandoning the family
to pursue his own selfishness.

He spat upon the ground,
recalling how his father would stare down the road his brother traveled,
pining for months for his return.
Why his father had not washed his
brother’s memory from his heart was beyond him.
He had hurt too many people.
Disrepected every tradition.
“Good riddance,”
he breathed for what must have been the 1,000th time.

A distant sound broke through his
personal pity party.
Turned his ear to the wind.
The intermittent sound of a flute so out of place in the pasture
Became less intermittent with each step.
More fluid and melodious
as he topped the crest of the hill.
Sounds of laughter.
Shouts of delight.

The man took off running toward his home…
the source of the revelry,
scattering the sheep and leaving them unattended in the field.

Burst through the gate,
knocking a tray of food from the hands of a servant.
Without apology, he grabbed the young girl’s arm.
“What’s going on? Tell me.”

She looked at him, smile beaming from her face.
“It’s your brother! He’s come home!
Come on in and see.”
Gathering up the tray and rushing toward the door, she called,
“You should see your Father.
I’ve never seen him so happy.”
 
As he watched her open the door to HIS house,
The noise of celebration echoed in the courtyard.
His mind reeled.
Stunned.
Seething.
Shattered.

His feet were as unmoved as his heart.
Unable to bring himself to join the celebration.
Resentful of his brother.
Angry with his Father.
Bitter at his circumstance.

His father opened the door.
Rushed to his side.
Hugging his elder son…
an embrace that was not returned.
With his hand resting on the neck of his son,
eyes glistening with tears, the father said,
“Come. Celebrate.
For your brother who was lost has returned.”

The son pushed him away,
anger burning brighter than the sun.
Hurt and disappointment
evident in every expression.
“I’ve slaved for you…”
“Never disobeyed…”
“You’ve never thrown a party for me…”
“You’re celebrating for
this…this…son of yours who squandered and sinned…”
“What about me?”

 Scripture records Jesus’ words in response to the older brother’s tirade in Luke 15:31-32, “My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours. Be we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

How fortunate that the younger brother was met first by the father and not by his older sibling…who would have turned him away and sent him back into the far country. The older brother lost nothing of his inheritance upon the return of the brother. The Father said, “All if have is yours.” His inheritance remained intact. Instead, he urged him to celebrate the return of “this brother of yours” who was “dead and is now alive, lost and is found.”

I picture Jesus finishing that last statement of his parable, looking into the eyes of the Phraisees who challenged his work among sinners. In this phrase Jesus was making yet another appeal to the blinded religious leaders to open their hearts to what God was doing for those who were lost right in front of their eyes. To the Pharisees, Jesus consorted with “this son of yours” when Jesus wanted them to see these same individuals as “this brother of yours.”

For the religious leaders it was more about the show and less about the substance. Their lack of love toward the lost prevented them from offering an alternative path of faith. In their eyes, the sinners were neither religious nor respectable enough to hear the word of God. Yet, Jesus taught that the show of religion and the pretense of respectability is no substitute for redemption.

As people of faith, we miss our chance to be redemptive when the language we use condemns the sinner and not just the sin. Jesus knew those with whom he shared his time were lost, living lives outside the will of God.  He chose to build relationships and connections with the sinners of the world so they could embrace the salvation he offered. He never put them down. Never called them names. Never suggested they were unworthy of receiving God’s grace.

Yet, that’s exactly the message that the words and behavior of some Christians convey through ugly and malicious messages on Facebook or mainstream media. We must take greater care in the words we use and the message we convey as we speak words of truth to a lost world.

Jesus began his parable as a way of celebrating the redemptive work of God among a world in desperate need of his grace. He concluded the parable with a stern warning to all of us our faith must be more than a show of religion and our lives more than a pretense of respectability.

Think how much better it would be if we worked alongside the father, one eye on the labor and one eye on the road traveled by our lost brother. Praying for the return of the lost to the Father’s loving embrace and joining in the heavenly celebration when our brother returns.

 

Source: The Searcher

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