Last week’s sermon focused on the parable of the “Prodigal Son” from Luke 15:11-24. It was entitled “The Lost Son” because it dealt with the younger son who went to a far away country and “squandered his property in reckless living” (13). It was easy to identify this son as lost because his outward actions revealed a selfish heart and a lack of relationship with his father. This morning, we are going to discuss “The Other Lost Son”. The parable of the prodigal son is actually a parable about two sons. Last week we discussed the younger and this week we shall discuss the older. What I pray we all discover is that outward actions are not always a reliable indicator of one’s heart. Too often, we can conform to a public standard of respectability while harboring a private life that is far less respectable.
But before we go any further it is important to remember that this parable, like the other two, was told in response to “tax collectors and sinners…drawing near to hear” (1) and “the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’” (2). All three parables are similar in that they reveal God’s great joy in a sinner repenting of their sin and returning to God. The parable of the Prodigal Son is different because it goes further than the previous two to include an angry, jealous older brother who refuses to celebrate the return of his brother.
The inclusion of an older brother who refuses to celebrate the return of his younger brother is mentioned precisely because of the grumbling of the religious leaders. This morning, we shall examine the section of the older brother and be encouraged not to allow respectability to be a substitute for relationship. In order to better explain this, I want us to work through the parable backwards. We will start at the end and work our way back.
No Relationship With His Father
The older son did not have a good relationship with his father. We discern this because he does not rejoice with his father at the return of his brother. When he learned of the party for his brother; “he was angry and refused to go in” (28). Even when “his father came and entreated him” (28); he would not budge. No doubt the older son was angry that the father even gave the younger son his share of the inheritance. The older son reveals his jealously when he says, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” (15:29-30).
When you have a close relationship with someone, you develop closeness and a bond. If your best friend calls you up to tell you good news, you rejoice in hearing the good news. Also, drawing from the previous parables, if your friend calls you to rejoice with them because they found something valuable that was lost; you rejoice with them. The son had no relationship with his father because he did not rejoice in the salvation of his brother but instead grumbled about his father’s lack of gratitude for how well he has behaved.
Respectability instead of Relationship
If the older son did not have a relationship with his father, what did he have? He had respectability. He sought respectability and ended up making it a substitute for a true, healthy relationship. When this happens, you seek the “right location” and the “right list” over the right relationship.
The “Right Location” The older son excelled in being in the right location. The right location is wherever society determines respectability is found. While the younger son left and “squandered his property in reckless living” (13), the older son stayed. In fact, when we first encounter him, he was “in the field” (25). The older son is exactly where one would expect a respectable son to be. From all outward appearances (and this is what matters most to him), the older son is far more respectable than his brother. He has never outwardly rebelled and reminds his father, “Look, these many years I have served you” (29).
The “Right List” The older son excelled in keeping the right list. The right list is whatever sins society determines you can publically acknowledge and still be respectable. He was indignant when his father chose to celebrate the return of the younger son because the younger son committed “serious” sin when he “devoured your property with prostitutes” (30). The younger son must not be celebrated but must be punished and even shunned for his disreputable behavior. In the older son’s mind, there are two main categories of sin: respectable and disreputable. The younger son had committed a sin that cannot be forgiven very easily. It was the older son who made sure to abide by the “right” list in that, as he says, “I never disobeyed your command” (29). The older son is not saying that he is perfect or sinless, but that his sins are more respectable.
Respectability vs. Relationship
This is the part of the sermon where we leave the 1st Century and have a look around 2014. Do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ that is healthy and vibrant or have you settled for mere respectability in the name of Jesus? Do you have a Christian faith that does nothing more than give you something to do once or twice a month on Sunday morning or does it define your very life? Do you measure your goodness in terms of what sins you do or do not commit or do you see every sin as worthy of God’s wrath and rejoice that He has provide salvation for even a sinner such as you?