The Prodigal Brother

One of Jesus’ most well-known parables is that of the Prodigal Son. Countless sermons, works of art, novels, and movies have explored the beauty of that parable. The Prodigal Son is the third parable in a set of three recorded in Luke chapter 15. The setting of each of those parables is about lost things. The first is about a lost lamb, the second is about a lost coin, and the third is about a lost son. In each parable, Jesus highlights the joy experienced when the lost is found.

The pinnacle moment of the Parable of the Prodigal is when the father forgives and accepts his lost son. “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:22–24, NASB95) It is a beautiful picture filled with joy.

But! Jesus didn’t end the parable there, and that always felt a bit odd to me. Verse 24 seems like such a marvelous ending point that what follows seems unneeded. “Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. “And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. “And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ “But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. “But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ “And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. ‘But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’ ” (Luke 15:25–32, NASB95) Why did Jesus give us the “rest of the story.”

The answer is in the context of Luke 15. Jesus was telling these three stories for a particular purpose. “Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He told them this parable, saying…” (Luke 15:1–3, NASB95) Jesus placed those scribes and Pharisees in the story through the character of the older brother. Jesus was welcoming the lost and spending time with them. In the estimation of the religious folks, they were unworthy and unwelcome garbage that God had cast aside. But Jesus saw them as lost lambs, precious coins hidden in the dust, and wayward daughters and sons suffering from their own choices. Jesus welcomed them, ate with them, and loved them.

This is always challenging because our sense of rightness demands certain things. Is it fair that I’ve given up much for Christ and that another is also accepted after living a life of selfish sin? But that is not how God sees things.

When we lose the ability to rejoice when anyone turns towards God (even just a little bit), we are just like the older brother. When we judge the worthiness of others to hear the Gospel or to receive love, we are just like the older brother. When we reject others because of their lifestyle, we are just like the older brother. Somehow we forget that we were once the prodigal son or daughter, the lost which was found.

Dale Heinold
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