We Just Have to Celebrate!
“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)
It appears that the “perfect” son at this point in the story had a similar problem to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law of Jesus’ day. They were simply unhappy extending mercy or having someone share in their “kingdom.” Lacking in mercy and selfishly motivated they were stomping their feet at the inclusion of the repentant. “It’s not fair!” they cried out. What they didn’t realize is that life is not fair! How “unfair” it was for Jesus, who being in very nature God, left His heavenly home to come down to earth, just to live a perfect life and die an excruciating death on the cross. Talk about unfair!
The older brother here is just like Jonah who also was displeased with God’s mercy towards the lost. It was Jonah’s desire for the Ninevites to be wiped away. God had sent him to deliver a message of destruction, and yet God gave them mercy. The Ninevites had been very cruel to the Israelites, and Jonah personally wanted to see their destruction. He wanted to be spared from calamity, but he did not want the Ninevites to be kept from disaster. Jonah, like the older brother, was an object of God’s compassion yet displayed no compassion for those he deemed not worthy–even when they truly were repentant:
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?” (Jonah 4:1-4)
As the parable of the lost son comes to a conclusion, we find an unavoidable, urgent, compulsory need to celebrate–the rebel returns repentant and there is great reason for rejoicing! Paul tells us in Romans 12:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4)
The Father pleads with the elder son to be glad over the return of his lost but now found brother. Yet the elder son could not justify in his own mind the mercy his Father was now lavishing on his once wayward son. How like human nature for us to keep score of our works and to grumble when one who has done less receives more. The elder was resentful believing his works outweighed those of his brother’s all the while never realizing how his own actions were weighed and found wanting as well.
Take It to Heart
Mercy, we all need it and we all desire to receive it. Yet many find, like the elder brother, it is a very difficult blessing to bestow.
But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear–hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. (Jude 1:20-23)
“Can the elder son in me come home? Can I be found as the younger son was found? How can I return when I am lost in resentment, when I am caught in jealousy, when I am imprisoned in obedience and duty lived out as slavery? It is clear that alone, by myself, I cannot find myself. More daunting than healing myself as the younger son, is healing myself as the elder son. Confronted here with the impossibility of self redemption, I now understand Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: ‘Do not be surprised when I say; ‘You must be born from above.’’ Indeed, something has to happen that I myself cannot cause to happen. I cannot be reborn from below; that is, with my own strength, with my own mind with my own psychological insights … I can only be healed from above, from where God reaches down. What is impossible for me is possible for God. ‘With God, everything is possible’.”
(Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal)