I can’t remember the first time I heard the story… probably before I was two years old. I know I’ve heard it many hundreds of times since. It’s found in Luke 15:11-32, and it begins: “There once was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Give me my share of the property…'”
Over the years, I’ve heard many variations and retellings and all kinds of teaching on this parable…
I’ve learned to identify with the prodigal son as I’ve been humbled by my sins and failures. I’ve been reminded to run, not walk, into His arms — the moment I come to my senses. I’ve been in awe of the mercy and grace and love of the Father.
I’ve also identified with the elder brother. I’ve learned that it’s wrong to be resentful of the mercy and grace God extends to others, because ultimately we’re all sinners in need of His mercy and grace.
Sometimes it’s easier to know that in your head than to feel in your heart.
Especially when we see former “prodigals” walking in all kinds of favor and blessing that we feel we’ve been denied. When it seems they get all the gifts we’ve desperately prayed for and never received. Deep down we find ourselves wondering why we bothered trying to keep all the rules, trying to do what was right. What did it get us after all?
Not long ago, I was doing a Bible study that asked if I could relate to the elder brother’s frustration, and if so, what was wrong with my thinking. The first part of the question was easy (um, yeah!), but I prayed for fresh insight over the second part. Because the answer I gave you above (we all need to be grateful because we’re all sinners) hasn’t always been so helpful to me personally.
Looking over the passage of Scripture, I started by asking myself: “What could the elder son have done differently?”
I guess the implication is that if he wanted something or needed something, he could have asked. But apparently he never asked. Why not? Well… Asking would have meant talking to his father. Confiding in his father — his hopes, his dreams, his desires. Getting input and advice from his father. Developing a relationship with his father. Doesn’t sound like that was a priority for him.
Instead, it seems the elder brother was focused on accomplishing his goals. Living his dream of taking over the family business and the estate. He was keeping his head down, faithfully (if not lovingly) doing what he was asked to do — being dutiful, responsible (like a good employee) — so that he would be worthy of his inheritance. Then when the time came, he would feel he deserved it — he had more than earned his reward. That’s the deal, after all.
The younger brother discovered that selfishness, sinfulness, and outright rebellion destroyed his relationship with his father. But as the elder brother discovered, so does treating him like a business partner — or worse, a vending machine.
What Father wants that?
Unlike the elder brother in the parable, I think most of us do talk to our Father, we do make requests of Him, confide in Him, seek His input and advice. We do desire a relationship with Him.
But sometimes underneath, there’s the expectation that if we do what’s right, He owes it to us to grant our request. He owes it to us to give us certain things…. or at least, He will, if He really loves us. Isn’t that the deal?
And when He doesn’t give us those things, we feel cheated. We did what we were supposed to do… why didn’t He?
But God never made that deal with us. The only contract — or covenant — we have with Him is the one written in the blood of Jesus. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow…”
So when the wounded heart of the Father cries, “Son… all that I have is yours!” He doesn’t mean He has promised us whatever gifts or blessings we feel we have a right to. Gifts and blessings that — if we take a moment to look — we’ll see millions of people on this planet never receive. Nothing like that is ever promised to us in this life. (Sowing and reaping is a principle, not a promise.)
When He says, “[Daughter]…All that I have is yours,” it means:
“You live with Me — in Me and I in you. You know Me. You have a relationship with Me! You have constant access to Me — to My love and comfort and strength and wisdom and peace and joy and protection and provision. My presence. My mercy. And My grace — which is sufficient for you. All that I have is already yours!”
It’s true for elder brothers and sisters — and it’s true for returned, restored, and redeemed prodigals. Whichever one we are today.
Forgive us for ever treating our relationship with You as some kind of contract or transaction — and accusing You of not keeping up Your end. Remind us daily that it’s relationship You created us for, relationship You long for… relationship You have given us. Thank You, Thank You that all that You have, all that You are is already ours in Christ Jesus!