[PART 4 OF 4]
In the previous article, we looked at the Parable of the Prodigal Son from the perspective of the prodigal son himself. In this article, we will re-examine the parable from the perspective of the older brother.
Go ahead and read through the parable again by clicking here. Then come back and continue reading.
THE OLDER BROTHER’S PERSPECTIVE
Perhaps the most interesting character in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son is the older brother. My first impression of this guy is that he is somewhat of a spoiled brat. Note that he has not been mistreated in the least. He still has his inheritance waiting for him, and it is twice as much as little brother got! Yet he acts like a big crybaby when his little brother returns home and is given a party.
But before we judge the older brother too harshly (and we will judge him harshly), ask yourself this question. If you were in his shoes, would you experience some of the same feelings? I think I probably would. On a certain level, it does seem somewhat unfair that his brother could run away and live a rebellious life, while he stayed home and fulfilled his responsibilities; and then when the brother shows back up, everyone bends over backwards to make him feel welcomed and treats him like some kind of a hero.
Maybe it is a good thing that, at least to some degree, we can relate to the older brother, because that means we can learn something valuable from this parable.
It is important to remember that the Parable of the Prodigal Son is not the account of an actual historical event. It is a parable. It is simply a story that Jesus made up, so that He could use it to teach some valuable lessons about the kingdom. It is reasonable to assume, then, that every detail included in the story is included for a specific reason, to add something to the overall “moral of the story”.
The older brother is included in this parable for a reason. Let’s see if we can figure out what that reason is.
As the older brother returns from working in the field, he hears a party going on back at the house. He calls one of the servants over and asks, “Hey, what’s going on?” The servant explains that the younger brother has come home and the father is throwing a party to celebrate his return. The older brother gets mad and refuses to join the party. Dad catches wind of this, and goes outside to plead with his older son. “Please come join the party.”
Consider carefully the older brother’s response to his father in verse 29. “Look! All these years I have 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. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
Have you ever noticed that when children start whining and complaining and throwing temper tantrums, they tend to exaggerate? Notice what Mr. Whiney-Britches says to his Dad:
- “I’ve been slaving for you all these years!” Uh oh! Red flag! This is probably an exaggeration. Slaving? Really? Come on!
- “I’ve never disobeyed your orders.” Uh oh! Red flag! This is probably another exaggeration. You have never disobeyed your father? Not even once? Yeah, you certainly seem like the perfectly obedient son to me. (Not!)
- “You’ve never let me have a party with my friends.” Uh oh! Another red flag! Here we go again. OK, I’m really starting to feel sorry for you now. Your Dad is such a big meanie-britches! He never lets you have any fun at all, does he? (Sarcasm intended.)
Whine, whine, whine!
Notice, when he refers to his younger brother, he doesn’t say “my brother”. He says, “this son of yours”. It is amazing how clouded our vision becomes, and how hard our hearts become, when we start feeling sorry for ourselves. This older brother was in the middle of a full-blown pity party. And even though he’s being unreasonable, and even though he is acting like big whiney crybaby, his father gently reasons with him.
“Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” Hey, that’s right. Remember that Israelite custom that we discussed previously? The father had divided his possessions among his sons, and the oldest son got a double portion. The youngest son had already taken his portion, and there were only two sons. So, everything the father had left would be passed to the older son. It’s all his! So, what are you whining about again?
Right in the middle of his oldest son’s massive pity party, the father reminds the son how blessed he is. You know, that’s probably a pretty good cure for almost any pity party. When we start feeling sorry for ourselves, for whatever reason, we need to simply stop and remember how blessed we are. There is an old gospel hymn that reminds us to “Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
The father continues. “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.” The older brother referred to his younger brother as “this son of yours” while complaining to his father. Here, the father gently rebukes the son by reminding him, “Not only is he my son, he is also still your brother”.
Remember that Jesus used the first two parables of this three-parable trilogy to teach the self-righteous Pharisees that “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Can you see how beautifully Jesus weaves that same theme into the Parable of the Prodigal Son? In fact, that is the moral of this story. The prodigal son repented of his sin and returned to the father, and there was much rejoicing.
The older brother represents the self-righteous, hard-hearted Pharisees. Jesus described these Pharisees very vividly in Matthew 23?
- They do not practice what they preach.
- They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
- Everything they do is done for men to see.
- They love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues.
In that same chapter, Jesus refers to the Pharisees as:
- Blind guides!
- Blind fools!
- Blind men!
- Whitewashed tombs
- Brood of vipers!
That was what the Pharisees were like! And that was what the older brother was acting like in Jesus’ parable. So, what is the moral of this story for us? Don’t be the older brother. Be the prodigal son.
Always remember that God will reward those who are sincere and penitent and turn from their sins and turn back to God.
Always remember that God will punish those who are self-righteous and hard-hearted, and those who try to prevent sinners from returning home to God.
“There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Part 1: “The Prodigal Son”
Part 2: “The Prodigal Son (Father’s Perspective)”
Part 3: “The Prodigal Son (Prodigal’s Perspective)”
Part 4: “The Prodigal Son (Brother’s Perspective)”
- Return of the Prodigal Son, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (Wikipedia), Public domain.