The Lamentations of the Faithful Son
The prodigal son is one of the most popular Bible characters. Jesus told the story in Luke 15 to demonstrate the depth of God's love and mercy to the lost.
The prodigal son is every preacher's ideal anecdote for what could go wrong if a person wanders away from God in disobedience.
However, there's another interesting character in that story. The older brother of the prodigal son was the better man. You may call him the "good son", an antithesis of the reckless younger brother.
The older brothers' dilemma
The older brother of the prodigal son has been projected in many prayer meetings as the man who wouldn't pray. He is often seen as lacking desire and ignorant of what belongs to him.
Why would a sane man who is faithfully serving a trust-worthy father worry about his future? Why would such a man have insecurities about his portion in the inheritance? Not forgetting how anomalous it is to demand a share of an inheritance when the benefactor is still alive.
The older brother was secure and comfortable with his lot until the prodigal one returned home. He kept his place in the house and never left his duty post.
But the return of the prodigal one triggered a need that the older brother didn't even know was there.
Suddenly, he realised he had been serving the father faithfully without any compensation. He had sacrificed his time and skills, yet unappreciated. He showed up every day, and yet not recognised. He had given everything, including forgoing benefits, but it seems he himself had been forgotten.
The pain of the older brothers
The older brother could be anybody.
You may have worshipped God all your life and yet can't understand if He appreciates your devotion. You may have been serving God, but your personal life is in shambles, and you are wondering if God truly sees you. You are in active service to a powerful and mighty God, but it seems nobody hears when you cry for help.
It could be that you have laboured to help fellow men and humanity. But the results are not encouraging, and you wonder if it's worth it.
This is where the 'older brothers' start to become frustrated, prone to envy, and may begin to have wild thoughts.
How could a man who squandered the commonwealth be so celebrated instead of the punishment that he deserves? This is a valid question on the mind of the older brother.
But the older brother was not aware that his brother was so deeply contrite that he asked to be taken in as a servant. He knew he was no longer worthy of sonship.
Sometimes, the 'older brothers' may become bewildered and discouraged to see people they considered less committed getting better results. The 'older brothers' think they are the special one - the one whose life ticks all the father's boxes. No wonder they can be in shock if honour is bestowed on someone else.
It's amazing that it was when the son that was lost returned home that the son that stayed threatened to leave. This is a pivotal moment in the story. The rising of one man setting the stage for the fall of another man.
The father of all
This is when the father showed pure genius. This man should have made the fatherhood hall of fame. He graciously received and restored the penitent prodigal son and managed to contain the raging anger and frustration of the older brother. The father proved that his status as a father does not change when any of his children goes astray. He is a father to the lost as well as to the one who stays faithful.
The father is best served if everyone stays, and delighted when the lost is found.
Everything is yours
You may be like that older brother – you feel used, cheated, exploited, yet unappreciated. But listen to what your father is saying:
..Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours (Luke 15:31, ESV).
The older brother needed to hear that his labour has not been in vain. He needed to know that the father considered him a partner and co-owner.
This is the intersection of compassion and hope. Compassion for the lost and hope of a reward for the faithful. Both are the exclusive prerogative of the Father (God). Whether you are the prodigal or the older brother, never turn your back on the Father.
God alone can offer you either of compassion or hope, depending on where you are coming from - a wasteland or a farmland.
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