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Today’s guest blogger is Jim Quigley.
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 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.’” (Luke 15:28-32)
Most of you have probably read the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). This is one of my favorite parables of Jesus because it demonstrates so many of the characteristics of our Lord and Savior. In case you need a refresher, the parable of the Prodigal Son is about a father and his two sons. The younger son demands his share of his father’s estate and his father willingly divides the property between the two sons. Despite the fact that it is incredibly disrespectful to ask for your inheritance before your father even passes away, the younger son further shows disrespect by leaving the house and “squander[ing] his wealth in wild living” (Luke 15:13). It is not until he is out of money, starving, and in total despair that he realizes the life he could have back with his father on his property. So he starts the journey back home and seeks repentance from his father. And the father lovingly embraces him, welcomes him home, and throws a huge celebration for the return of his son.
Many of us can personally relate to this story – maybe not literally, but spiritually speaking. Many have gone astray and indulged the sinful nature, and as a result, disrespected the One who bore all of our sins to give us eternal life. But after some time, or perhaps a long time, of living this sinful life, the filth of our sin becomes evident to us. And something, or I should say, someone, makes us remember a glimpse of the life that we had, or are supposed to have, with the Father. Then somehow we find the strength to run back to Jesus and humbly submit ourselves to Him, ask for forgiveness, and “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). I love this parable because it just shows God’s never failing love, His free gift of grace given to those that don’t deserve it. His love, His mercy, His grace, His forgiveness, and His compassion are all on display here in this parable.
But what about the other son? Why did Jesus have this son in the story at all? Do you remember who the audience that Jesus told this parable to? “Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them this parable” (Luke 15:1-3). This parable was told both to the “sinners” and the Pharisees who were present. The sinners can easily relate to the younger son, but the Pharisees related more to the older son. They prided themselves on obeying God and (supposedly) following the letter of the Law.
So what is the deal with the older son? I used to always disregard him in this parable, thinking that he was just an unimportant supporting character. But Jesus didn’t waste His words. Notice the older son’s reaction to finding out that his younger brother is getting a huge party thrown for him after he came back from squandering his father’s money and living a sinful life. In Luke 15:28-30, Jesus says:
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
The older son’s anger and pride are evident. He has a great sense of entitlement; that he deserves better treatment and a better lifestyle as a result of his obedience and his work.
How often do we get angry or frustrated with God, claiming that we deserve more or are entitled to something better? Entitlement can be a very dangerous thing. It can easily be a breeding ground for the enemy to weave his vicious lies. Perhaps it’s a lie about God not caring about you, or not loving you, or some other lie with the intent to distance you from the Lord. In most cases, entitlement can lead to pride and a sense that your accomplishments are a result of your own strength. And it is entitlement that causes us to think that our works warrant earthly rewards, that God owes us something for the works that we have done. Now, maybe you haven’t thought about it that way, but that is essentially what entitlement is. But we need to remember that all that we have is a gift that we received from God and we have no right to boast as though it is our own (1 Corinthians 4:7). Instead, we need to act like the elders surrounding the throne in Revelation 4:10-11 which says:
“the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives forever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.’”
I am thankful that God does not give us what we actually deserve. For what we deserve is not the glory and greatness and blessings that we think we are entitled to. No, what we deserve is death resulting from our sin. But thanks be to God who gave us what we didn’t deserve, the free gift of grace and eternal life to those who believe in Jesus (Romans 6:23). God has already given us infinitely more than we could ever possibly deserve. Who are we to demand more for the works and obedience that we can only accomplish through the strength and gifts that He gave us?
And I think that is what Jesus is trying to remind us (and at the time He was first telling the parable, the Pharisees) with the character of the older son. He is warning us (and the Pharisees) from falling into a mindset that we deserve more than what we already have, or a better situation than what we are in, or a better life, etc. Just because someone else seems to have a perfect life, doesn’t mean that you deserve it too. Remember, success in God’s eyes does not mean you have it all together. So neither should we measure success that way either. Further, the father lovingly and compassionately responds to the older son’s outburst with “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours” (Luke 15:31). And I think here Jesus is reminding us that He will always be with us and His love will never leave us. Shouldn’t that promise be good enough for us?
We don’t know if the older son ever went into the party. His pride and sense of entitlement might have kept him out from ever enjoying the love and joy of that celebration. The parable teaches us that our admittance into the “party” that our Father in Heaven is throwing is not based on how long we have obeyed or how many works we have done. No, it is on truly admitting that you don’t deserve to be at the party. You gain entry when you realize that you can’t do anything apart from the strength of Jesus. You can join the joyous celebration when you accept that your actions don’t prove or entitle you to anything. And when you do, the Father will be waiting with open arms. May we remember both lessons of the parable of the Prodigal Son; that we are sinners in need of grace, and that that grace is more than we deserve and is more than sufficient for us. May we have the courage and the humility to accept that what we have and the love and grace of Jesus is more than enough for us.
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