HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
Notice the name of this parable but Jesus never gave it a name. However, we know the story as that of “the prodigal son”. My brothers and sisters let us get int the word and see the message for us today.
He did not say, “Here follows the parable of the prodigal son” … nor “the parable of the gracious father.” But I suspect, that if Jesus were to name this parable, He would not call it either of those. I suspect He would call it “The Parable of the Bitter Big Brother”.
Just as the Pharisees and religious teachers were standing outside the circle of Jesus and His merry band of sinners when Jesus told them this parable … so to the older brother was standing outside the party in the story. Jesus told the parable for the sake of the older brothers in front of him. At one point Jesus was speaking to me but now it is your turn to hear the message of salvation.
Just as the Pharisees had been faithfully obeying the Law of Moses all these years … the older brother had also been keeping all the rules. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with keeping the rules but with some flexibility.
Coming in from a hard day’s work in the fields, he heard the noise of the party. This was a very unfamiliar sound. Other people partied … not them. Since little brother left, anyway. Dad never slaughtered … dad never entertained … Dad watched and waited … Dad pondered and prayed. That little swine of a brother had left behind nothing but pain and sadness in his wake. He wondered what all the happy chatter and laughter could be about. Oh, big brother my son has come back to his roots where he started as a Mystical member.
But when he inquired of the servants, his curiosity turned to fury! He was livid. Dad was partying because the little brother had come home? Yes, he came back to the place where he belonged. As we would say in the Caribbean “where his navel string is buried”.
Instantly there rose in big brother a host of overpowering emotions. Fueled by years of begrudging hard work, seething over the little brother who was probably off having a whale of a time while he slaved away in the hot Palestinian sun … smelling the perfume of pretty Syrian maidens while he was shovelling cow manure … feasting and drinking dad’s hard-earned cash away, while he slaved to make dad richer … all the pent up emotions burst out in a wave of jealous anger and indignation.
The older brother’s question is not stated in so many words, but it’s obvious: How could you? You have welcomed this sinner and now you’re feasting with him!! It’s exactly the muttered question of the Pharisees isn’t it: “How can this rabbi welcome these sinners and feast with them? How dare you bring this man back into the fold after all the bad things he has done and caused disruption. Who are you to judge big brother?
This is the parable about the Pharisee in all of us … the parable of the bitter big brother … the one who acts in exactly the opposite spirit to the father of grace.
The father was a voice of forgiveness … reconciliation … honour … mercy … acceptance … gracious love.
Big brother’s voice is the voice of judgment and un-forgiveness … bitter condemnation … spite … shaming tactics … rejection … hatred, envy, jealousy and a host of other negatives. And so if this is the parable for the big brother in all of us … then we better understand why Jesus told the parable.
Jesus stepped outside of the merry circle of forgiven sinners … and reached out to the Pharisees with his story of gracious love, in order to do exactly what the father in the parable did. He stepped outside the party and went to his son … and pleaded with him to come inside … to come in out of the self-imposed cold of hard-hearted, legalistic judgmentalism and condemnation to come into the warmth of the feast of gracious, joyful, forgiven fellowship. He was inviting him to live by grace and not by law, to live in forgiveness and not in the bitterness of soul.
The parable ends before it’s finished. We are not told what the bitter big brother did. Why? Because, fellow big-brothers, you and I get to write the end of this story for ourselves. We get to decide whether we will come in out of the cold and live in grace. Next time someone who looks like they don’t fit in arrives … will you be the first to embrace them in a warm welcome? Next time you see someone who has hurt you deeply … and you have the opportunity to extend forgiveness and gracious acceptance … will you make a move to reconcile? Next time God’s grace offends you and you wish He wouldn’t invite people like that back into His family … will you swallow your pride and let Jesus be shaped in your heart?
Here in my Conclusion of this matter. Right at the heart of this parable is God the Father, standing to wait in gracious, forgiving love with arms open waiting for you to come to Him. To the left stand some of us, far from God because of our sin and rebellion against God. To the right stand some of us, far from God in self-righteousness and a bitter state of heart and mind.
To all of us, the Father’s heart is calling: “Come to the feast! Leave your life of sin and come home! Come down from your high horse of self-righteousness and come home! Come to the feast.” There is no time for division. Will you come and join me the Father pleads. Will you come?