“But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Someone pointed out long ago that that the parable of the Prodigal Son could easily have three titles; ‘The Prodigal Son. ‘The Forgiving father’, The Unforgiving Brother’.
When we examine the parable, it is plain to see where our Lord Jesus placed the emphasis. The story concludes with the dialog between the father and the unforgiving brother, the moral bookkeeper.
The older brother had no doubts about the kind of treatment his morally bankrupt brother should receive. And he was right. The young man had squandered his inheritance and corrupted himself. He brought shame on himself and his family. He had no right to expect anything but scorn, punishment, even rejection.
The older brother, on the other hand, stayed home, worked for his father and kept his nose clean. if you don’t think so, just ask him. He kept careful records. And when the older brother, much to his dismay, discovered that his father was not a moral bookkeeper, he was outraged. He watched from afar, sulking, saturated in righteous indignation as the house lit up with rejoicing and partying. The father was ecstatic! His son was home! The lost one was found! How disgusting.
Jesus ticked off a lot of people with stories like this. And the ones that he ticked off the most were the moral crusaders who sit in the front pew on Sunday morning, bibles open, taking copious notes on the latest set of Godly principles for living. They know better than to suggest that God is actually gracious, loving and merciful. They know that God is a moral accountant, keeping careful track of every slip, every error, every sin. Sound familiar?
- You see, what our Lord Jesus was doing in this parable was exposing those religious, church-going folk who actually get wind of God’s Word, God’s mercy, God’s grace and find the whole business to be upsetting, distasteful and dangerous. The older brother was not clueless. He threw up all his righteous defenses precisely because the unconditional grace of God had come upon him. This grace put enormous pressure on him, on his self-centered moral and religious outlook. So it was either give in or fight. He chose to fight God’s grace in the name of God’s law. One just can’t up and forgive, after all. I have to do something don’t I?
There is no question that the younger brothers’ immoral, whore mongering life had exposed him. What’s not quite as easy to absorb is that, at the same time, the older brother exposes himself, his utter lack faith and love of God or love for his brother, in his sanctimonious reaction. Like many church-going folks he was convinced that when it comes right down to it you can’t run the world – or a church – on grace. What would people think? They might start running amok, thinking they can do whatever they please.
We tend to forget that our Lord Jesus aimed this parable not at sin-soaked, immoral n’er-do-wells but at “good” religious folks, soaked in the sin of their own moralism and half-baked religiosity. People who, in spite (literally) of God’s love for them, find little to celebrate. They dutifully go to church, successfully using their religion to defend themselves against the unconditional grace God.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”