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In the last two weeks we have celebrated the perfect love of God modeled in the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).
The younger son reveals an imperfect love, as he tries to earn his father’s love back when he returns home. The older brother reveals the other side of imperfect love as he puts everyone to the test before he will grant his love and forgiveness.
Being an eldest brother myself, I sadly saw much too much of myself in the older brother of the parable.
We older brothers (and sisters, I imagine) often believe we are due all we get by virtue of our status as eldest brothers.
From an early age parents often look to the eldest to help control chaos from the younger siblings, and the eldest often enjoys, beyond his true status, the power that such responsibility brings.
In the Jewish culture many of these attitudes were institutionalized family traditions. For example, when the father throws the party for the youngest son, by Jewish custom, it is the oldest son who is to start any big feast by cutting the meat. The feast cannot start without the oldest brother.
Many people have given the older brother the luxury of having his confrontation with his father in the privacy of a field, but in fact, the words clearly indicate that the son’s tirade are right in the front yard with all guests watching this embarrassing display.
Can you relate to the older brother’s anger? I must admit, his words have rolled off my lips in similar form far too easily.
“Listen, dad, for all these years I have been working like a slave for you. I have never disobeyed your command. Yet you have never even given me a goat to enjoy with my friends. But when this son of yours comes home, who spent all his money on prostitutes (an assumption the brother makes which is not confirmed by the story), and now he gets fancy steaks.”
It is scary how much these words remind me of the self-righteous love I see people share with one another, putting children, parents, friends, even God, to the test to earn their love. It is even scarier when, in moments of honesty, I see it in myself.
Too often devout Christians look too much like the older brother as well. They are the obedient ones, the law-keepers, who follow all the rules with long faces, trying to prove to anyone, to God, that they are worthy of all the love and respect they receive.
Chances are, many of us aren’t so sure we like throwing parties for prodigals. Give them a second chance, but let’s not go overboard. It is certainly not worth breaking out the filet mignon.
The father’s words reveal that wonderful truth about unconditional love, that the more love one shares the more love one has to share.
He says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:31-32).
There is plenty of love from God the Father to go around. God’s love is sufficient for the life-long follower of Christ, just as it is for the new disciple of Christ.
Just because God showers love down on his prodigals doesn’t mean there is less love for obedient ones. Are you guilty of being a bit self-righteous in any important relationships in your life? This is a tough question for us to answer for ourselves.
Ask someone you trust if you are guilty of self-righteousness or putting others to special tests to prove they are worthy of your love.
How would you feel if someone that looks a bit like a prodigal showed up at your church? How would you feel if that person or their whole family sat next to you?
Would you be able to celebrate that they are looking for a new life with the Savior, or would you get upset because they didn’t look right, smelled a little strong, or somehow messed up your worship
Unconditional love is a unique and very precious gift when it is in our lives.
May such love give you the courage to seek forgiveness and a new relationship with a younger or older brother or sister.
To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles, see www.lagrangepres.com. The views expressed in this column are those of the writer.