This story reminds me of the story of Jonah, whom God sent to warn the people of Nineveh. Not only did he have to alert and caution them through God’s word, it was also God’s hope that they turn from their wicked ways in repentance and look to Him. Jonah had a different idea from the instruction he had from God. He did not want Nineveh to ever experience the mercy and grace of God. He was jealous that God was going to stretch forth His hands towards them, so he decided to branch off to Tarshish but by one way or the other he found himself back at Nineveh.
He stayed at home as the good brother thinking decency and goodness is the way to get the blessings from God. He was very careful in observing the “dos” and “don’ts” only to find out that his goodness and decency led him to a lot of anger and frustration. His plan for the remainder of the inheritance didn’t go as he had hoped; rather they were being expended on the brother that came back home from his journey. The fatted calf had been killed; the father had ordered a feast to be prepared for the invited guests and the resultant behavior of this brother revealed the wickedness he had stored up in himself; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth spills.
His good and decent life must have informed him that his father would make available whatever wants or needs he may have. Though we did not read from the beginning of the story that keeping a decent life was the status quo for getting the blessings from the father; he said, “all these years have I served you Father and you didn’t kill a small goat for me, but…” implying that, he was actually doing it for gain not because it was good to keep a decent life even if there was nothing to gain. His motive for doing well and keeping the laws were wrong and weighed upon the balances spiritually; he was nowhere near the Kingdom of God. God would have scored him an F9, if He were to be awarded a score as per his spiritual life. God saw beyond the physical, went in to reveal the inner machinations of his heart. God saw from this boy that his moral observance of the law was based on the fact that he was expecting a result (positive) from the father.
This appears to be the case with many Christians today; many of us became Christians because of a promise (husband, wife, children, money, miracle et al) that God will change our circumstances for the better. Many of us give to the work of God because, like a money doubler, God will multiply the seeds that we sow. By this, we unknowingly think we can only go to God because of what we think God can give to us. Consequently, we are like this boy, making sure that we do good, not because doing good is good but because of the said “reward” we might get at the end of the day.
For some, when the message being preached does not involve phrases like: 7 steps to prosperity, 10 ways to getting your miracles, 25 ways to keeping your marriages, and many more, the listeners don’t feel they have attended a service. They look for other churches where such is preached so that they can use God to get what they want. We have been made to believe in the need for an effort to be done on our part before God can in return release the blessings on us. Jesus had the most crowds when there were miracles taking place, or where there was food to give to his listeners. The moment Jesus starts to talk about the Word, the crowds disappeared. So if for you, going to church borders on what God can or is going to do for you, you had better sit back at home because you might be very disappointed.
There is always a difference between when you do well because you want it to come back to you and when your faithfulness is borne of love. When your moral observance of the Law leads you to expecting results, then like Solomon said, satisfaction evades you because you would always look for more and more and more. And when what is expected does not come, as you anticipate, anger becomes the order of the day. You will get angry because of your brother’s blessing; not knowing that your resentment was caused by your effort to control life because you feel you deserve it (or didn’t do the stupid thing your little brother did). When you get angry, you will utter comments that are unbelievable. The blessing of God is not about how hard you have kept the moral laws but on His mercy and grace.
The elder brother got angry because his father didn’t acknowledge the efforts he had put in; he refused to walk into the feast even when his father went to explain and invite him to the feast (such love and respect he had for his father…right?). He was not about love for his father but love for things and according to him, he deserved better than his younger brother. Now he is angry, what does he do?
He began to feel superior to his brother as he equated both of them; he became competitive in order to achieve a sense of his own significance ending up with a judgmental and unforgiving spirit. He found it difficult to look for his younger brother who was lost because he had regarded him to be an outcast, a child of disgrace and more so, one that dragged the family name under the bus.
He began to explain to his father as he maligned his brother, saying, “Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!” The question I would have asked him, if I were his father would have been, how did you know all this about your brother? Were you there when he spent the money and estate on harlots? He spoke out of anger and maybe he didn’t know or understand what he was saying to his father. In other words, he was saying to his father let him go away, send him back to wherever he was coming from because he didn’t deserve the forgiveness his father gave him. That sounds like Jonah’s idea about the men of Nineveh and God’s idea of extending His mercy to them.
I can imagine the glow on the faces of the Pharisees and Scribes as they listened to a complete description of their character and person. Nothing was said about them but Jesus’s description of them isn’t a good one; it required that they changed their attitude, as they were the elder brother in the story. When you read through the gospel, you would see the picture Jesus painted and more.
When we begin to equate our efforts and the good we do to how God blesses us, then we are fast becoming the elder brother whose end was frustration, bigotry and self-righteousness. Please refrain from saying God didn’t do anything because of your efforts in praying, giving, church attendance and the many more we can find. You might just be a carrier of that spirit of the elder brother.
“People who are no longer sure that God loves and accepts them in Jesus, apart from their present spiritual achievements, are subconsciously radically insecure people…Their insecurity shows itself in pride, a fierce, defensive assertion of their own righteousness, and defensive criticism of others. They come naturally to hate other cultural styles and other ideas in order to bolster their own security and discharge their suppressed anger” – Richard Lovelace.