Prodigal God Week 4 – “The older brother became angry and refused to go in…”

Chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel is all about things that are lost and found.  For Jesus, these words have significant meaning, being “lost” and “found” represent as state of sin and a state of salvation.  One of the significant things that happens in this parable is that in a way similar to what he did with the idea of sinfulness, Jesus redefines what it means to be lost.


Much like with sin, the ways the younger son is lost are far more obvious, but the older brother is still presented as lost, and Jesus wants his audience to see that “older brother” lost-ness is brings just as much pain and misery as the other

  • Signs of the Older Brother’s Lostness
    1. Anger – “the older brother became angry and refused to go in”
      • He’s not just upset things don’t go his way, he is angry and resentful. Every statement he makes is dripping with resentment toward his father and his brother
      • Why? Because he buys in to an idea many of us do – that if we live a good life we deserve a good life
        • Problem – that’s not the way the world works
          • When things go wrong we either: 1. Blame God or 2. Blame Ourselves
            • Either way basing our morality on the results we see will leave us disappointed and bitter
    2. Superiority – “this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes”
      • The older son isn’t just upset or disappointed with his brother, he has disdain for him
        • ex. He refers to him as “this son of yours,” he refuses to acknowledge that they’re related
      • Warning sign of an older brother mindset – a self-image that is based on being hardworking, moral, smart, funny, or being a member of the “right” group
        • Here any sense of significance comes from comparison to an “other” who doesn’t measure up
          • This is the entry point to things like racism and classism
            • “Because I am (white, black, rich, poor) I am better than those who aren’t
      • This leads to an unforgiving, judgmental spirit
        • We are much quicker to forgive others for the things we can see ourselves doing than the things that don’t make sense to us
          • The older brother hates the younger brother because he (OB) would never do what YB did.  His superiority makes it impossible for him to forgive
    3. Slavishness (mindset of a slave) – ““all these years I’ve been slaving  for you”
      • The reason the older brother serves the father is duty, nothing more.  There is no joy or live there, no desire to make his father happy, he just does it because he believes he has to
      • That mindset can get in to our relationship with God – we do the right thing out of fear or obligation
        • Anyone can do the right thing out of fear or belief that it will somehow get us ahead, but there is no joy in that kind of mindset
    4. Emptiness – “You’ve never thrown a party for me”
      • The older brother doesn’t believe his father loves him because he’s never gotten (what he believes is) the appropriate reward
      • Basing our idea of God on how we’re “rewarded” leads to always wondering if we’re being good enough or doing enough, and we’ll never be able to be sure
  • Why does all this matter? Because the younger son realizes he’s lost and the older son doesn’t
    • The older brother mindset is dangerous.  It creates a body of guilt and fear ridden people filled with anger and superiority to the “other” and allows the church to get caught up in things like  racism, social injustice, and violence.


The older and younger brother are both pictures of lost-ness, but both also seem like exaggerations.  Isn’t Jesus over doing it a little? No., he’s trying to show that both the paths these brothers represent lead to destruction.

It seems obvious that the hope is that we’ll see that these two options are dead ends and search for a different one, but another option isn’t present.  Jesus left someone out of the story, hoping that the lost would try to find him and in finding him find the answer to how to be “found” at last.

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