Luke 15:24b-32 (NRSV)
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
By ‘Debo Onabanjo
As I mentioned in last Tuesday’s devotion, Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal or Lost Son gives all of us wonderful insight into the loving heart of our heavenly father. He also used the story to remind us of a profound truth. There is absolutely nothing we can do to earn God’s grace or to make God love us any better than he already does. While God would very much prefer that we all live a life that is pleasing to him, he is always willing to extend compassion to those who repent of their sins and return home as the prodigal son did.
As Jesus continued with the parable, he cleverly reintroduced the older son. Many of us would have conveniently forgotten the older son by this time, but Jesus used him as an object lesson for all of us. Truth be told, not everyone in the church (represented by the 99 righteous sheep that did not stray, as mentioned by Jesus in Luke 15:4-7) rejoices when the lone stray sheep returns.
We who have been believers for so long can easily forget that our salvation is a gift and not a reward for something we have done. We are sometimes quick to show disdain when God pours out the richness of his grace on others. Even though it is never right, we can sometimes see others as undeserving of God’s grace.
The older son saw the feasting and merry making and became very angry when he found out the party was for his younger brother. If you were an older sibling who received the news that your long-lost younger brother had returned home, and your father was celebrating his return, how would you react?
Quite typical of Jesus, he did not leave us guessing and revealed the brokenness in us all, using the older brother as the example. Like the Pharisees and the teachers of religious law that Jesus constantly denounced for their hypocrisy and lack of compassion, the older brother did not want to be part of any celebration or gathering for his renegade younger brother. As far as he was concerned, he was much better lost.
Even when the loving father begged him to join the celebration, the older brother refused and castigated their father for his kindness. He displayed a warped sense of entitlement and selfishly wondered why their father had not celebrated his long years of slaving. Like the older brother, there are folks who have the wrong impression that salvation is something we earn through our hard work for God.
As Paul reminds us, “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:9.)
The older brother in this parable, like some of us who are long time followers of Jesus, chose to stay at home not out of love for the father but for self-preservation. He was slaving to retain his part of the inheritance. Even while he lived with the father at home, the older son, just like the younger son, lived in a distant land. He did not take the time to get to know the heart of the father. He had no relationship with his father and was only slaving daily with the expectation of earning his way into the inheritance when the father passed away. Our salvation is a gift and not dependent on any legalistic keeping of the laws or reward for our hard labor.
The older son even disowned his younger brother and described him as a bum and scum who had dared to come back home “after squandering” his own share of the inheritance on “prostitutes.” How did he even know how the younger brother lived?
He could not believe that his father killed the fattened calf for such a reprobate. The older brother, like the pompous Pharisees and teachers of religious law who looked down on sinners that came to be with Jesus, despised his younger brother.
Here is the moral of the parable: All of us have sinned, either in the manner of the older or younger son. We do not deserve eternal life, a gift from our eternal father.
I don’t know about you, but I am thankful that salvation is free.
Compassionate and loving God, thank you for reminding us through your loving Son that we cannot earn our way to salvation. Help us to labor out of love and not because of what we hope to gain. Grant us compassion for everyone who is struggling with sin today and help us to offer a helping hand when needed. Grant us grace to be like our father in heaven, who is merciful and gracious to all his children without showing favoritism. Amen.