In the famous story Jesus tells, both sons disappoint their father. The younger son geographically separates himself from his loving father; the older brother is emotionally and relationally distant. When the younger son finally comes to his senses and returns home, the older son is not ready to embrace him like their father does.
It has been suggested that perhaps the reason why the younger son does not return home sooner is because he knows his critical, unwelcoming older brother awaits him there. It has been further suggested that many runaway prodigals do not return to their biological or church homes today because of their experience with older brothers – whether biological siblings or brothers (or sisters) in Christ. They would rather remain lost than encounter condemnation back at home.
The older son is such a flawed character in Jesus’ story – and it ought to hurt when we see characteristics of him in us that push other people away.
There is one good thing about the flaws in the older brother, though: He puts a desire within us to have and know a better sort of older brother.
A better sort of older brother who we find in Jesus.
As I’ve said before, knowing Jesus as an older brother offers me profound hope: He is a brother who is strong yet gentle, brilliant yet patient, always present and caring. But more than that, he is the brother who restores my relationship with my heavenly Father. For me he was willing to die to ensure that could happen.
It’s thanks to Jesus that lost sons and daughters (like me and you) are found for now and for eternity.
My series this month on prodigals is indebted
to the profound writing and preaching ministries
of Timothy Keller, who wrote The Prodigal God, and
Darrell W. Johnson, whose sermons on “The Prodigal Father”
can be downloaded as part of his series entitled
“The God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I also deeply appreciate the “Prodigal Son Collection” at
the Calvin College Center Art Gallery.