It is easy to spot the waywardness of a prodigal who spends their life and resources in wild living. It is much harder to see how upright living and obedience for the wrong reason can lead us just as far from God. This was the point of Jesus’ story in Luke 15 of The Two Lost Sons. Our focus is often on the youngest son who wandered away, became destitute when he spent all of his share of his father’s estate, and then returned home to his father’s love and unconditional acceptance. But there is another brother in Jesus’ story and this one left his father’s love without ever leaving home.
Towards the latter part of Jesus’ story, the focus shifts to the eldest son. When he came in from the field and discovered that his younger brother had returned and his father’s household was celebrating, he became angry and wouldn’t go in. You see, the older brother also loved his father’s stuff more than he loved his father. When the younger brother asked for his share of the estate, the older brother also received his share. Because he was the eldest son, his share was double that of his younger brother’s. Such was the custom in that time. Though he received the benefits of being an eldest son, he did not fulfill the responsibilities that go with that position in a family. As the eldest brother, it was his responsibility to go and look for his younger sibling, but he didn’t do that. He stayed home and tended the ⅔ share of his father’s estate that he had received.
When his younger brother returned, the older brother revealed what was going on in his heart when he showed contempt instead of compassion toward his brother, and when he directed disrespect instead of honor toward his father. The older brother considered his father a fool for celebrating the return of someone who had squandered so much precious money.
The father did not love the reputation or the money that he lost. He loved his eldest son, and so he begged him to come into his home and celebrate the safe return of the youngest son, whom the father also loved. “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’” (Luke 15:31-32)
The father’s words in Jesus’ story are an invitation to the Pharisees to come and share in their heavenly Father’s celebration over the return of the younger sons of this world–the prostitutes, tax collectors and other notorious sinners–who were coming back into the family of God through the love, forgiveness and grace offered to them by the ultimate eldest son, Jesus Christ. He did what an oldest son is supposed to do. He set aside all the comfort and trappings of his heavenly home to come to this earth and search for lost younger brothers just like you and me, who have wandered away from God’s love because we love things more than people. Having found us, Jesus paid the full cost to restore the share of our Father’s estate that we have squandered. It was a joy for Jesus to suffer the humiliation of the cross so that he could wrap his arms of love around you and welcome you home. As a beloved, forgiven child of God, you get to bask in God’s unconditional, infinite love forever. As God’s love transforms us, our love for people grows and our love for things diminishes so that we are better able to Love God, Love People and Serve the World.
Dear friends, the habit of loving things and using people is toxic to our souls, our relationships, and our world. And when we do it in the name of Jesus, we risk driving a wedge between people and the only hope for a better life they will ever have. So let’s keep a close watch on our desires and our behaviours, and call ourselves out whenever we use people and love things. We don’t need to love things to look after our daily needs because we have a Father in heaven who provides and cares for us. He carries us in his loving arms and we are forever safe with him, so we can forget about ourselves and our personal material needs. God has us covered. By bringing us home to our heavenly Father, Jesus has freed us to love others with the love he has first given us. And because we love people like Jesus does, we celebrate whenever he brings another of our lost siblings home.
The story Jesus told is still relevant today. If you go online and search for “Bree Tuttle testimony” you will find a video of Bree telling her personal story of being raised in a loving, Christian home, and then wandering away from home and God to live a life of professional success and promiscuity in the big city. When the recession of 2009 hit, everything in her life collapsed. She asked her Dad if she could move home, and he agreed without reservation or condition. That was the turning point for her. Her father welcomed her home just like the father in Jesus’ story welcomed home his youngest son. Over time, Bree became part of a Christian community, and she met and married a fellow follower of Jesus. God has restored her life.
For Bree, the thing in her heart that pulled her away from God was her love for personal independence. She wanted to be able to make her own choices. The thing in her head that pulled her away from God was her perception that God demanded perfection and she was always falling short, so she thought that God would never want to have anything to do with her. Through her experience of going home to her earthly father and his unconditional love and acceptance for her, Bree was able to receive the greater love and acceptance that her heavenly Father had for her. He was joyously waiting to welcome her home. Restored and much loved by God, Bree is now able to love others to a greater degree than she ever was before.
In closing, I want to ask you “Which son are you in Jesus’ story?” Are you a younger son who has been living life far from God? My challenge to you is to Come home. Come home to the Father who loves you with a pure, unconditional, infinite love. He is waiting to wrap his arms of love around you, welcome you home and restore you into the fullness of life with him.
Or are you an older son, who is satisfied with your own performance and looks down on those who cannot hide their brokenness as well as you? It is only by God’s grace that you have the life the Father has given you. My challenge to you is to embrace the grace the Father wants to give you and be the older brother that our world’s younger brothers need. Go out and search for them. Generously love them with the love the Father has given you. And then celebrate with great joy, whenever a younger son returns home to the Father.
Whether we are an older or younger brother, all of us need to have Jesus renovate and reorientate our soul so that we Love God, Love People and Serve the World.