The younger brother was not too happy being supervised by his father, hence his decision to take his share of the estate, move into a far country so that he becomes lord of himself, making decisions as he deemed fit. He wanted independence so that he can have unfettered control of his portion of the goods. Putting the whole scenario in perspective, he is like the man who wants to discover himself by making choices and decisions un-aided by any human standards and philosophy; giving no thought to what the society deems as right or wrong. In today’s religious church setting, the act of this younger brother is an obvious sin because it would be regarded as an obvious wrongdoing.
On the other hand, the elder brother remained at home being guided and directed by the societal standards and in obedience to his father’s will. In his conclusions about himself, he said to his father, “all these years, I have served you and you never gave me…” He became lost and was fast losing his father’s love because he felt he could gain it by his goodness. He conformed to the laws and standards of the society and as far as the same society is concerned, he was a very good boy worth emulating. By the standards of today’s church, this is the boy we ought to be like in our daily walk with God. When compared to the younger brother, it was not his sins or misconducts that separated him from his father rather his self-acclaimed righteousness was what kept him from partaking in the feast prepared by his father.
This is the sort of dilemma we find ourselves in today: in the messages we hear from our pastors and leaders. Our messages are kind of polarized: on one side of the divide, we preach about how bad it is to flout community standards, inclusive of obeying biblical principles all because of the gain from God. We teach that if we don’t do this, God will not do that and so on. This is the message the elder brother was trying to pass across to his father; yet, he didn’t make it into the feast. Moral conformity does not seem to help according to the story Jesus is telling us in the parable.
On the other side of the opposition we are caught again in the message of self-help. We are or have been taught that we should discover ourselves; dream big (no more what God has for us) and the world will follow in case it ends well for us. The advocates of self-discovery or the protagonists insist on pursuing their own goals and self-actualization regardless of what society deems as right or wrong (that is in their customs or conventions). According to this perspective, the world would be a better place if tradition, prejudice, authorities or other obstacles to personal freedom are removed or taken away. This is the picture painted by the younger brother in the story, and which doesn’t seem to help either because he ended up becoming a pariah eating leftovers from pigs.
According to Jesus in this story, the two brothers were lost; they were both wrong although the offense of the younger seemed more obvious than his brother’s. Both hearts and the two divides they projected and represented are very much alike than they appear to be. How?
The younger brother went away with his share of the inheritance; he felt he did not need his father therefore he resented his father and made away with what he was given. In his quest for control, he went away with his share while the elder brother stayed at home and obeyed because that was his own way of gaining absolute control. His idea was that he had obeyed the father and therefore his father owed him: to do whatever he wanted done (the way the elder son wants things done). Both brothers were alike in that they were working for a reward from their father and never wanted him; they both used their father to get what they wanted (selfish ends).
These two divides represents the different motives we have in our churches today: some of us go to church because there is a promise of good coming our way (as in material things) and some also come because they don’t want to go to hell. In other words, there must be gain before I step out to any church. Our leaders in turn are wise enough to advertise their churches as a product, presenting or advertising on what you can get if ever you decide to come to their churches. We use God to get what we want in our own way; very few present or advertise the love for the Father, even if there is nothing materialistic to gain and that’s where we are missing it. This is where both sons missed it.
What is the solution to these two polarizations?
Jesus in the story presents to us the concept of sin and what it means. His definition of sin goes beyond the concept of observing the “do’s” and the “don’ts”, laws or creeds – observing God’s rules of conduct. This is what the Apostle calls “works”, where one thinks they are entitled to blessings just because they don’t sin. It is an unspoken way of controlling God through our obedience to giving us things we want – using God as a means to an end.
Jesus spoke about reproving the world of Sin because the love of the Father isn’t first priority in our lives. We must love God for who God is and not work through the observance of one creed or the other pretending to love Him because of all we want or need.
Therefore, Jesus shows us from this story that a man who has not violated the law, looking at moral behaviors can be in every bit, as spiritually lost as the most profligate, immoral person. The two brothers never loved their father because their makeup through the Sin Nature contaminated their souls. So it is not in man to love God from their heart and mind. Intrinsically, God has to come to us, helping us to get back to loving Him and that’s what GRACE is all about.
Just like the father invited the younger son into the feast, he did the same for the elder brother. This is the reason for Christ leaving Heaven, taking the form of man because He had to come for sin and also condemn sin in His flesh so that the barricade between humanity and God can be broken down, cutting across race, color and sect.
Thank God that He came to you.
If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair – C S Lewis.