The Question the Parable Leaves us With – Why does the story end without resolution
- Answer: The older sons are in Jesus’ audience listening and it is up to them to decide whether to respond the the invitation to embrace Jesus’ message
- That Message: Everything they believe about interacting with God is wrong
Two Brothers, Two Paths
The two brothers in the parable represent two ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment, moral conformity and self-discovery. Where we stand on those two beliefs shape our understanding of everything. Each of the two ways of thinking is a means of finding personal significance and worth, addressing the problems with the world, and determining right from wrong.
- Conformity – the elder brother
- “Things would be better if they were like they used to be”
- The Pharisees of Jesus’ day fit right in to this category. They believed that strict obedience to God’s law and their religious tradition was what would maintain their chosen status and lead to their ultimate salvation. Even when they fell short of the standard of the law they were judged on how sorry they were for falling short
- Self-Discovery – the younger brother
- “Things would be better if tradition, prejudice, and hierarchy was removed from society”
- This mindset found its way into 1 Century Palestine through the Greeks and Romans, some of whom so self-actualization and pursuit of individual goals as the way to live the “best” life.
We all find ourselves in one of those two frameworks. We may not be 100% one or the other, we may lean strongly one way at certain times in our lives and then swing to the other, but we all fall somewhere within them. What Jesus says in this parable is both are wrong because both miss what it means to “sin”
The Sins of the Brothers
The younger brother’s sins are obvious – he’s self-indulgent, he humiliates his family, he’s a drunk, he’s a lecher, he’s out of control. He is obviously alienated from the father
The older brother’s sins seem less obvious, but over the course of the parable it is revealed that he is just as alienated from the father
Both sons are alienated, and both are offered a chance to fix that, to enter into the feast. The younger son does and the older doesn’t. Why
The older brother’s goodness keeps him from entering the feast
- “I’ve never disobeyed you.”
- Its not a list of sins that separates him from his father, its his pride over his moral record. Its not his wrongdoing but his righteousness that keeps him from the feast
How does this happen?
- The brothers are more alike then they seem. Both want out from under their father’s thumb. Both want the benefits of their father but not a relationship with him
- The younger son – makes a bold play and leaves
- The older son – seeks control through obedience. He basically says “because I’ve never disobeyed you you have to do things the way I want them to be done.”
- What does this show us – obedience to God’s law can be just as much a means of rebellion as full on revolt
Neither brother loves the father for who he is. Both use him for their own ends as opposed to loving, enjoying, and serving him for who he was. Both believed the the father’s wealth, not the father’s love, were what would bring about happiness.
What does all that mean
The elder brother types can easily fall into the trap of obeying God in order to get things, not to get God. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day are prime examples of this. They don’t want to resemble God or love God or know God or serve God, they want to be able to demand reward from God. They attempt to obey God so that they can be their own saviors.
The most moral person can be just as lost as the most immoral person because sin isn’t a matter of breaking rules, it is putting yourself in place of God as Savior and Lord
Both approaches to life we see demonstrated in this parable fail because both are designed around self-salvation. Both brothers are trying to get into the place of the father as head of their lives.
In the parable the younger brother gets it, the older does not. The younger brother sees his mistake and comes home, the older brother remains blind to the danger of his situation.
What Jesus seems to be saying here is that the prerequisite to receiving grace is realizing the necessity for it in our lives. The older brothers among us are in a much more dangerous position because they’re separated from the father but can’t see it