We all know how the Prodigal son squandered his inheritance and came back home, ashamed and broken. But, where does indignation have a place in this parable? The Father exercises grace, kills the fatted calf, and throws a party! It’s time to REJOICE! But wait: someone is INDIGNANT?!
The prodigal son was clearly a sinner who squandered his inheritance. But pay attention to ALL of the characters in this story. His older brother suffered from his own sin, the sin of indignation. “But he [the older son] was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him… “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:28; 31-32, NIV)
There’s More Than One Sinner in This Story
In Jesus’ parable, the older son refused to go into the party. His audience probably thought that was the logical response; even the tax collectors realized that the older son would have been bitter and angry. No one in Jesus’ audience was surprised at the older son’s indignation. He had a right to feel that way!
The listeners all probably realized that the dutiful son who stayed home was similar to the Pharisees, who practiced righteousness until it hurt. Most Pharisees would have stayed away from the party, too. They were, however, very surprised to realize that the older son’s actions and indignation made him just as rebellious and insensitive as his younger brother. He wasn’t home because he loved his Dad; he was there because of the payoff that would come his way when his inheritance became fully his.
Just as the lost son rejected his Father and left home, the older son now rejected his Father and stayed outside, angry. HIS money was being frittered away on a feast for his undeserving brother! The injustice!
They Didn’t see THAT Coming
What no one would have expected was how Jesus described the way (once again) the Father responded to the situation. He took the initiative and “came out” to his eldest son. He “pleaded with him”. The Father was willing to share all that he had, including his daily presence in relationship, and yes, including his willingness to show compassion to his lost child by throwing a party. He gave the older son the opportunity to share in the celebration, to move from callousness to compassion, and from duty to delight. The Father grieved over his older son’s indignation just as he had grieved over his rebellious son’s debauchery.
Since the oldest son represents the Pharisees, Jesus leaves him suspended in the tension of the moment, outside the party and unwilling to come in—just as the Pharisees stayed apart from Jesus, unwilling to accept him. They were wrapped up in being right. They were so busy looking down their noses at everyone that they couldn’t see love right in front of them. Perhaps you can relate. Are you busy “hating the sin and loving the sinner”? Do you feel a little superior to outlaws, addicts, the homeless, divorced people, gays, liberals. etc.? Take a cue from the Father, and reach out in love. There’s room at the party for everyone.
The younger son just had to laugh. His father killed the fatted calf
And he who had deserved it least was honored at a festive feast.
His older brother stayed away, he didn’t understand this day:
It wasn’t even somewhat funny, wasting all that time and money!
The younger brother was a fool. The elder thought it wasn’t cool
To celebrate this prodigal son–something he would not have done!
His feelings were too strong to hide, and so he waited there outside,
Allowing bitterness to reside in every thought, and to abide…
While sinners need to hear the Lord’s commandments, and to heed Him,
Some righteous folks miss God because they think that they don’t need Him…
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