Luke 15: 11 – 32
We read in this piece of scripture, the story of two brothers who were born into the same family, living in the same house and both working for their father. There have been several teachings focusing on the younger of the two brothers, slamming him with so much contempt, forgetting the older brother.
There is a need to compare and contrast these two brothers because indeed there is a reason for telling this story in the first place. There are also various lessons to be learnt from them both even from the Father.
I have taught that the focus of the story was on the father, and I still stand by it. In this particular write-up, there is a need to compare these two brothers because more can be learnt from their characters. This story will help us to undermine the existing paradigms and categories that we have for understanding our relationships with God.
The younger son comes to his Dad and asks for the portion of inheritance due to him. In accordance with the Jewish custom, when a father dies and has two sons, his estate was divided into three parts; the elder son gets two-thirds, while the younger gets a third. This would happen when the father dies. But at this moment the father is still alive and this son comes with such a request. ‘Maybe he wants his father dead’, someone may say. Another may say that ‘he wants the father’s things but does not want the father. He wants the father’s wealth and estate, the prestige and comfort that goes with those things, but really didn’t care what happened to the father’. ‘Bad boy’ another may say, ‘why does he want his father dead? Very much unheard of’.
What does the father do then?
Amazingly he divided his living (bee’-os – in the Hebrew language, which means the cause of life by which life is sustained) in accordance with the Jewish custom, giving a third to the younger son and two-thirds to the older brother. He tore his life apart for his second son. Bible describes it as dividing his life because of the request of his son. The younger son goes off with his own share and squandered it dissolutely. Bible described the act as riotous living. He didn’t look back. Some would question why the father did that; he should have told him off and many more thoughts one can have.
It got to a point in the story that the younger brother spent all that he got from his Dad and began to be in need of sustenance. He joined a citizen of the country he had relocated to and got a job to feed pigs. No one gave him anything to eat or drink and gladly would he have loved to take the food of the pigs as a meal for himself. At that point he realized what sort of a foolish man he was. Sometimes it takes disaster for us to realize how we have played the fool. Thank God he has come back to his senses. He makes a plan and the first plan he makes is to go back home because he knows that there will be bread to eat, at the very least. He made up his mind to go home and ask for his father’s forgiveness. At the time he left, there was a break in relationship between the younger son and his family. Remember that two-thirds of the father’s living/property was left.
The second plan he makes was to tell his Dad to make him as one of the hired servants, not the real servants. The hired servants were people who came to work on the estate receiving wages from their master. He had plans to make restitution and pay his father back. On the other hand, the servants lived on the estate. In other words, he will tell his dad not to restore him to the status of the son that he was before he left, but to that of a hired servant. He planned to pay his father back.
He leaves for home and as soon as his father sighted him from a distance, he was happy; ran toward him and embraces him in compassion. He kisses him and falls on his neck. Just before the son could come out with his plan, the father commanded his servants to bring a robe, a ring, sandals for his feet and a fatted calf, which was going to be killed because the man was happy that his son had come back home. The father restored him even before he started to roll out his plan. You can say anything you want to say but the father reinstated his son. Remember he is not your son; he is the son of his father. He who wears the shoe knows best where it pinches.
We were all like this younger son in our sin and indeed, need the grace of God to be restored to the family of God. No matter what state we are in, God will always accept us as his dear little children who have gone astray and have a desire to come back home. It’s never too late especially when it has a lot to do with God accepting us into his fold through His Grace. Everyone in the family of God, one way or the other must have been saved by Grace. You cannot have the worst sin in the world, so it’s never too late to come now.
What about the elder brother? He has not found out about the return of his younger brother. When he finds out, would he be happy or sad. Let’s find out.
The portion of scripture helps us to understand that the older brother was on the field and as he approached the house, he called one of the servants and asked what was happening in the house. They told him that a feast was being prepared to celebrate his younger brother coming back home. The fatted calf had been killed, sandals on his feet and robe on his back, completely restored back into the fold. Naturally one would expect a conflict, a disapproval and disgruntlement. Remember, the remaining two-thirds belonged to the older brother.
As soon as he learnt what was happening, the elder brother refused to go inside the house. He didn’t want to be part of the feast going on because of the choice the dad had made concerning the younger brother. His father was forced to come out to meet with him and he refused to go into the feast. He explained how he had been good to his father after serving him for so many years. He was furious that when the younger brother came back whom he referred to as “your son”, the Dad killed the fatted calf.
The older brother did not realise how happy his father was because he was just concerned about himself and part of his inheritance given to his younger brother. It was the father’s happiest day, he invited people all around to celebrate with him.
The older brother brings to remembrance the story of Jonah who was angry at the fact that God wanted to save the people at Nineveh.
Again, the older brother like the younger brother was more concerned about the portion of inheritance being shared with his brother who came back, but didn’t care about the father. He wanted stuff but did not want the father. He cared about the father’s things but did not care about the father’s heart.
The father told him all that he had was his (the older brother’s). He was the only heir left but all the boy could see and think about was the diminishing of the properties left and that made him very unhappy and dissatisfied. He began to humiliate the father on the greatest day of his life, arguing with him. The father told him to come in with him into the feast.
The next question will be, ‘so what will happen to the two brothers when they see each other; will they hug, fight and bring the party to an abrupt end?’ Guess what, Jesus ends the story. What a way to end such a story, no resolution to the saga.
The two sons were both in the wrong, one was self-righteous and the other was a self-professed sinner. The younger brother came back and confessed his sins and entered the feast. The older brother who is self-righteous thinks he does not need to repent and was therefore outside the feast. The older brother represents the Pharisees and Sadducees while the younger represents the Gentiles who will need part of the inheritance of the older brother to be saved. The older brother didn’t want to do that but Jesus is offering himself as our older brother. Not only is He willing to share his inheritance for us, He is prepared to drop the splendour in heaven to look for us (his brothers in diaspora, gone into a far country), with the purpose of exchanging his own life for ours.
Jesus is our big brother.