Let’s Hear it for the Prodigal
I am not exactly sure why we think of this story as being about one son. In fact it begins by saying that a man had two sons. Somehow it has evolved into the story of one son with a minor diversion towards the second one. However, the Bible never clearly tells us it’s only a story about the prodigal. So, we often fail to learn as much as we should from the life of the other son.
There is something to be said for the prodigal. With all of his mistakes and bad judgments, he did come home to his father, and finally recognize his father’s goodness.
It was the prodigal who talked about how good the father treated his servants. In fact he treated them so good that he would have been happy to be a mere servant to his father. So in that way the prodigal had a greater appreciation for his father than we have given him credit for.
The same cannot be said about the older brother. The older brother had no idea how good his father was. Because of that he could not see what his own responsibility was.
Recently I had this thought. The older brother’s sin was not against the prodigal. It was against his father. There was no confrontation between the two brothers in the story. Both confrontations took place between the father and the sons.
We’ve spoken much about the confrontation between the father and the younger son, but I want to talk about the confrontation that took place between the father and his older son and learn from that part of this story.
1. The older son was suspicious of his father. Think about it for a second. What would you have done if you came home from the fields and a party was going on inside your your house. No doubt you would have said, “I want to go in and see what’s happening.” Is that what he did? No, it’s not. Instead of going in, he questioned one of the servants.
Now why would he do that? It is because he was suspicious of his father. Why else did he not automatically go in? Rather than rejoicing and trusting his father he had questions about his father. It’s interesting how older sons sometimes enjoy questioning their father. They don’t trust him, and that leads to the second thing.
2. He questioned his father to someone else. Did he go directly to his father and question him? No, he talked to someone else first. Sadly, older brothers don’t go to their fathers, they talk to other people about their fathers.
If he had been right with his father he would’ve immediately gone in and said, “Hey dad what’s up?” He didn’t. He snuck around to one of the servants and asked, “What’s my father up to?” Suspicion of a father leads to the inability to communicate with the father directly.
3. He was angry at his father. Now, I cannot help but believe that a reaction such as his was not spontaneous or all-of-the-sudden. He was already angry at the father. The Bible does not say he became angry. It says he was angry. There was already something seething within the older son towards his father, and this anger was an extension of a problem he already had towards him.
4. He refused to go in when he heard of the father’s good news. Now try to imagine this for a second. The father was celebrating the return of a son. You would think that he would say, “Hey, my dad is happy, let me go in and congratulate him.” Is that what he did? Absolutely not. He would not go in.
A son like this is not happy to see his father rejoicing because he is too self absorbed. When he should be celebrating the good news of his father his is instead defiantly refusing to take part of his father’s celebration. Interesting.
5. The father had to come to him. Now this is really amazing. Fathers should not have to chase down their sons, but rebellious sons typically don’t pursue their fathers. You see, instead of him having the kind of relationship where he wanted to go in and talk to his father, his father had to chase him down to talk to him. He was allusive. He wouldn’t talk to the father without the father coming to find him. Son’s should be pursuing their fathers, not fathers having to pursue their sons.
6. He questioned his father’s goodness. Oh my. Imagine this son daring to accuse his father of not being good to him. All the son was enjoying was because of the sacrifice of the father. Yet, he could not see it. It’s hard to believe that a son in a pigpen would be more aware of the goodness of his father than a son who is still living in the abundance of his father’s goodness.
7. He questioned his father’s integrity. Say what you want about the younger son, but the older son was the one who truly questioned the integrity of his father. He questioned his motives. He questioned his wisdom. He questioned his decision to be good to the younger son. Rebellious sons are typically questioning sons.
8. He accused another to attack his father. Instead of celebrating with his father he accused his brother. Sometimes accusation is not meant for the object, but rather as an excuse against someone else. It was not the son with whom the older son had a problem. He had a problem with his father. Whenever you have a problem with your father you are typically going to have a problem with the people around him.
9. He didn’t realize all his father had done for him. The father said, “All that I have is yours,” but the son was so angry with his father that he couldn’t see it. The relationship was so poor that he had forgotten all the good things that he had because of what his father had done for him and all that he had built.
The truth is everything that son had was because of what his father had done for him. Say what you will about the younger son, but the older son was the one who didn’t realize what he had.
10. Here is what I believe is the crux of the whole matter. This is the point that I think sums up the entire problem. The father said, “Son, thou art ever with me.” My friend, that’s how rebellion usually begins. There are few things that cause rebellion more than familiarity.
A warning to fathers: Don’t let your sons become too familiar. A warning to sons: Don’t let your familiarity breed contempt with your father. That’s what happened here. He had been there too long. He had seen too much. He had forgotten his dad’s goodness, and began to take for granted the relationship he had with his father.
If you’ve never lost something you probably never valued it. Recently a man told me this story, “I know what it is like to lose a close relationship with my father. When I finally came to myself and restored that relationship, I valued it and did not want to do anything to risk losing it again.”
Young men who have never been away from dad’s goodness, don’t take him for granted. Familiarity certainly can breed contempt, and it’s tragic when that happens in the heart of a son towards his father.
THE SADDEST PART OF THE STORY
But, perhaps the saddest part of the story is not what is said. Maybe it’s what was not said. We know the standing of the younger son at the end of the story. He was home and back in fellowship with his father. What we don’t know is the status of the older son because nothing was ever said.
We are left to conjecture, but I cannot help but believe that the silence is deafening. The older son did not go in and restore the relationship. He was still there. He would get up the next morning and go out and work in the fields. He was still a son. But the relationship was not restored.
I wish the younger son had not done what he did, but I rejoice at how his story ended. The saddest part of the story is, that in spite of the fact that the older son didn’t go into the far country, and didn’t spend all that he had in riotous living, and didn’t sell himself to a heathen in the far country, and didn’t end up in a pigpen yet he missed out on the goodness of his father and the sweet relationship he could have had.
And so I give tribute to the younger son. Yes, the prodigal, who in dire circumstances came to understand the goodness of his father, swallowed his pride, and returned home. If you are like the younger son, come home from the far country. But, if you are like that older son, come home from your cold heart.
Don’t miss out on the relationship that you should be enjoying with your father. Be aware of what you have. I commend you that you haven’t gone to the far country, but I grieve because you are a prodigal even though you never left.