We read from the Bible about the popular story of the Man who had two sons. The man had worked all his life to provide for his family and people around him also benefitted from his good works. He had acquired so many investments that had a very strong potential of multiplying even in the years to come. By this, he had secured his family for the future. Although his wife was not mentioned in the story, we know he had two sons who were already employed to work with him in his business. So according to the modern language, they had it going on for them and can only hope for the sky.
The thoughts in the mind of this man would have been to teach his sons on how he got to where they were and how to promote the business to the next level of growth. He did all he could do for these two boys but met with a challenge that threw him off balance. The sons carried a different perspective and idea from that of their father. The phrase “if it’s not broken, why fix it” did not work for this family as they tried to fix a problem that was not there in the first place. The younger of the sons decided to ask for his inheritance, so he could leave home to establish himself far away from his father and guess what? His father did not contend with him, neither did he tell him not to go. Sometimes it is good to take expensive risks, hoping that it may turn out well on the other side of the road. The older brother stayed at home with his father for reasons we are yet to find out. One can only imagine what was going through their father’s mind considering all he had done for his sons.
From the resultant end of the younger one, we are able to deduce that the money he got from his father was spent on a riotous and prodigal life style – although we were not told by the narrator of the story what he spent the money given to him by his father on. However, we were told that he started to lack and no one gave to him when he needed. As a result he decided to work for a citizen of the country he went to and this employment was for him to feed pigs. We were also not told how much he was paid and what he intended to do with the monies earned.
On this faithful day, he came to the reality of himself – he must have thought deep about his father again and the servants that worked for his father and how they made good living in comparison to the kind of job he was disposed to in that far country. It led to his resignation considering sometimes he fed on the left overs from the pigs in the pigsty. It was a very dirty job, one that he should never have been associated with.
So he decided to go back home and the reception from his father on his arrival was unexpected. His father forgave him, refused the restitution suggested, killed a fatted calf, gave him a ring and a change of clothes (he gave his son a robe). He went in to the feast already prepared. Please note that all their father gave to the younger brother were things left from the remaining inheritance he divided between the two sons. This means the remaining goods that belonged to his elder brother.
On the other side of the story – the elder brother at home knew that the remaining investments were his and he must have just been waiting for the death of his father so that he can finally take over the estate. What is the point going to look for his lost brother anyway, seeing he went away with his own share of the inheritance. He knew bringing his brother back home would mean infringing into the remaining estate, which might not go down well with him. He became angry and unhappy that his younger brother came back home; he confronted his father maligning and making up stories on how bad his brother had been and how he had spent their father’s investment by wasting it on harlots and the so many things he mentioned. There was nothing the father could say to him that would encourage him to attend the feast. He just couldn’t have it; his share of the inheritance was already being invaded by his brother.
Judging either of the brothers means completely missing out on the real essence of the message. So we are not going to judge any of them but we will take a look at their story knowing that they represent one or two ways at which we approach our God today – how we are alienated from God and the different ways by which we seek acceptance into the kingdom of heaven. As human beings and in our approach to God, we are perceived to carry one of the spirits of the two boys, sometimes knowingly and sometimes ignorantly.
The reason why Jesus gave this fictitious story was because his audience (comprising of the Scribes and Pharisees) saw him speaking and associating with people who weren’t Jews and were regarded as sinners. In accordance with their culture, Jews were not allowed to associate with Non-Jews. So the story therefore, isn’t so much about the younger son but the older one who had an attitude that typified the attitude of the Scribes and the Pharisees.
Jesus’s target in this story is not the insubordinate sinner but the religious people who do everything the Bible necessitates. Jesus here is pleading not so much with the debauched people as with the honorable populace. His desire was to show to them how blind they were; their narrowness, self-righteousness and how these things were destroying both their own souls and the lives of people around them.
When the Pharisees and Scribes knew that the parable was about them, they were infuriated, flabbergasted and offended. This idea of the story (told by Jesus) was not to warm our hearts but to crush our different categories. He condemned the destructive self-centeredness of the younger brother and also reprimands the moralistic life of the elder brother in the strongest terms. In order words, both brothers were lost and like Paul said, all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. Both life paths will eventually lead to dead ends and that every thought the human race has had about how to connect to God has been wrong.
There is no attribute of God which self-righteousness does not impugn. Self-righteousness arises partly from pride, but mainly from ignorance of God’s Word. Ever since man became a sinner he has been self-righteous. When he had a righteousness of his own he never gloried of it, but ever since he has lost it, he has pretended to be the possessor of it – Charles Haddon Spurgeon.