The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. (NIV)
We delight in this familiar story about the father welcoming his prodigal son home. But what about the older brother? We shake our heads at his childish reaction to not having his own feast. Still, we understand why he feels this way. My grandmother, in order to manipulate her children, often said, “Lord knows I’ve tried. I’ve worked and slaved and sacrificed just to provide you with ____.” She filled in the blank with whatever the child’s need or desire was . . . a new coat, a college education, a car. Her saying is part of our family canon. We jest about it and share it with others. They laugh and know exactly what we mean. A few, however, respond, “Well, since she sacrificed for her children, didn’t she have the right to expect some respect from them?”
The older brother in the parable works for his father the entire time that his younger brother is away. He is obedient, present, and faithful, respecting his father’s wishes. Isn’t he justified in feeling angry that he has not been honored in some way? Hasn’t he been respecting his father’s wishes all this time? The truth is that he hasn’t understood his father. He has spent his life distant from him in a different way than his younger brother has.
The father pleads for the older son to join the party because he knows that saying yes to this invitation is a way for this brother to come to himself, make his way home, and start over, too.
When do I feel entitled? How does this keep me from the better gifts God offers me?
Loving God, help us come home to your love that redefines the way we see you and ourselves. Amen.