I remember someone from church once said in conversation that because Jesus was perfect, he was technically hilarious, and had a great sense of humour. Whenever I read the parable of the Prodigal Son, I think about that, because there’s always a part I find funny.
Many Christians will know the significance of the parable, found in Luke 15:11-32. After the son of a wealthy man leaves and squanders his inheritance, he returns home, filthy and ashamed. But instead of scolding him, his dad runs out and hugs him, giving him a clean cloak and throwing a huge party. Like the son, no matter how far we’ve strayed from God, we can come back to him at any point, and he will embrace us.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.
24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
Luke 15:21-23 New International Version (NIV) [emphasis added]
That being said, we’re not focusing on him today!
I think it’s funny how Jesus took the time to carve out this other character – the older son. In contrast to this picture of God’s love for us and his saving grace, the older son is essentially a hater. When he heard that his brother had come back, and everyone was inside partying, this guy was fuming, and refused to join them.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But 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.
30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
Luke 15: 25-30 (NIV) [emphasis added]
Of course, the Prodigal Son represents all of us – there isn’t one person alive who hasn’t sinned (Romans 3:23), and God celebrates when even one of us comes back to him. But looking back on my time in the faith, I realised that there have been plenty of moments that I related way more to the Prodigal Son’s brother than the son himself.
I identify as something of a ‘goody two-shoes’. I never really rebelled, at least not in big ways, and I became a Christian in my mid-teens. As a result, there’s been no part of my young adult life in which I wasn’t aware of, and (to at least some degree) pursuing God. That’s a great privilege, but I have my fair share of insecurities. There have been plenty of times in my faith where I started to feel so bound and dutiful – I was trying to follow God, which at times looked really different to the things those around me were doing. I started to become very bitter about this. In my most vulnerable moments, I’ve been so frustrated when I saw people who I felt weren’t ‘trying as hard’ yet appeared to be thriving in ways that I wasn’t.
The root of that frustration was, and is, pride – an ugly emotion. How many of you can relate? No? Just me? That’s cool.
Has somebody else’s situation ever pushed you down a toxic path of jealousy and discontentment? When honestly confronting your feelings, do you find the cause of this jealousy to be because you feel like God is not giving you what you ‘deserve’? You’re making an effort to stay on the ‘right path’ but don’t feel like you’re being ‘rewarded’ for it? There’s loads of potential triggers:
Maybe it’s the person who’s prayers seem to be answered more frequently than yours.
Maybe it’s the person who hasn’t been a Christian for the longest time, but who seems incredibly blessed spiritually, financially or physically.
Maybe it’s the friend who isn’t necessarily pursuing holiness but who seems to be more free and fulfilled than you.
Maybe it’s actual siblings or family members who people are always measuring you against.
There is nothing righteous about this indignation – its roots are pride, jealousy and dissatisfaction.
But verse 28 says that the father ‘went out’ and ‘pleaded’ with the son. That’s huge – God doesn’t abandon us, even when we’re frustrated with him. He chases us; he wants us to talk to him. And look how he then reacts to his son’s anger in verse 31 – it speaks volumes about what God wants us to remember when we feel frustrated and overlooked:
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.
32 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.’”
Luke 15:31-32 (NIV) [emphasis added]
That’s a rich promise – what exactly does it mean? My interpretation
is that even when things are going badly, as followers of Jesus, we’re promised
a limitless connection and relationship with the perfect eternal God. If we believe
that he undoubtedly is the best thing we could have, then this statement means
This parable touches on a pretty big question – why do some people get good things, when others don’t? I’m constantly struggling with that question, and couldn’t claim to have all the answers to it. But what I get from this passage is that the older son (much like us, sometimes) wanted a performed, ultimately superficial experience of a reality that already existed. That party was a tiny, temporary and finite example of the real wealth, relationship and enjoyment that they both had access to.
What this shows is that the he had a wrong perspective. He describes a slave-like servitude he’s enduring for his father. That doesn’t sound like a person aware of his worth. Submitting to God is important, but we should always remember our worth to the Father. Jealousy is an extremely human, understandable emotion, but it’s a sin that we’re consistently warned against in the Bible, and should confront quickly. Here, we can see that it it clouds our understanding and experience of God.
The gospel has never been about prosperity or appearances – it’s centre is the re-connection of God to mankind, through Jesus. Nothing about our relationship with God is threatened, invalidated or lessened when new believers, other believers, or non-believers for that matter, experience good things. As difficult as this can be, I’m constantly trying to remember that phrase in verse 31 – “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours”.