The Prodigal Son, Part IV: The Bitter End
Luke 15:25,28 Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing… But he was angry and refused to go in.
I love Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son. I of course, am the wandering son who repented from his destructive ways to find new life in the father. I have often thought that Jesus should had ended the story there, with the triumphant return. He did not however. Not everyone has wandered as obviously as the prodigal, so not everyone identifies with him as well as I do. As some do not see their own destructive behavior in his story, Jesus went on to tell the story of the older brother.
The older brother, we are told, was not quite as excited about his brother’s resurrection. He came home from working in the field to find the household in full celebration. When he discovered the reason, he was furious and refused to participate. His father tried to explain his joy, but filled with bitterness and resentment, the older brother could not do it. Look, these many years I have served you… But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!
Oddly enough, I do not mind identifying with the younger brother, but I loathe that I am, at times, the older brother as well. I was reminded of this by a memory from treatment where I witnessed a couple of clients being hauled out, by the police, in front of all, for using drugs while in treatment. Fifty addicts witnessed the event and fifty addicts stood ridiculing and condescending to the stupidity of those two. I was angry at the fifty. How ridiculous was it that those in treatment for addiction would mock others struggling with addiction? Suddenly, I was looking down on the fifty. I became prideful and arrogant at their pride and arrogance.
We so often do this. We live with the father and as we have either repented of our big sins or never had any big sins in the first place, we feel quite confident that we have earned our place with the father. These many years I have served you… Then, when the prodigal returns home, we are bitter and resentful. We want him to serve his time. We want him punished. We wallow in our pride and resentment, refusing to be part of the celebration. We thus, choose excommunication from the father.
In a bitter twist of irony, it was the older brother who chose to leave his father’s presence, while the younger son chose to embrace it. We are never told if the older son joined in or not. Jesus left him standing there as a reminder to us all. We are daily to choose humility, repentance and denial of self. We are to daily choose to live in right relation with our father. In choosing self-focus, pride and resentment, we abandon that relationship and we stand outside the celebration.
This is our daily choice, to be the younger son, living perpetually with the father, or to choose self, excommunicating ourselves from his presence in our self-infatuation. It is only in continual acceptance of our need for the father that we can cling to him as the prodigal did.
The Seeds of the Spirit is a daily blog based on a walk through the New Testament. Written from the perspective of my own addiction, it explores the common defects of our flesh nature and the solution, our spirit life. If you find it helpful, sign up for the blog as a daily email, tell your friends and like/share it on Facebook.