One of the best-loved stories in Scripture is the one Jesus tells in Luke 15—the parable of the prodigal son. In fact, this is one of the best-known stories ever told in the history of mankind. It is a remarkable message of the love that God has for people.
While we tend to focus mainly on the son who had left home, Jesus informs us early in the story that the man had two sons. To ignore the emphasis on the second son is to perhaps miss the main point of the story altogether.
The younger son asked to receive his inheritance early. This was an extremely uncommon request. Even more uncommon was that the request was granted.
The son soon gathered up all that he had and departed. He left behind nothing that would tie him to his previous life on his father’s estate. He set off for a faraway country and squandered his wealth in wild living. Then a famine occurred, and he began to be in need. He was so desperate that he hired himself out to feed pigs, an especially detestable job for a Jewish person.
He finally came to his senses and decided to go back to his father, confess his sin and ask to be hired as a servant. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming and ran to meet him. He welcomed his wayward son home with a hug and a kiss. The father gave his son a royal welcome and decided to celebrate with a party.
We often conclude our study of the parable at this point, but remember, this is a tale of two sons. When the older son came in from the field, where he was faithfully carrying out his responsibilities, he heard music and dancing. So he questioned one of the servants, and learned that his younger brother had come home and that their father had ordered a celebration.
The older brother was in no mood to celebrate. Instead of experiencing joy at his younger sibling’s return, he became indignant. His angry response to his father betrayed an attitude of self-righteousness and a lack of appreciation for everything that his father had provided him over the years.
The father showed compassion to his older son, just as he had when the wayward son returned. He pointed out to his older son that he had always had access to wonderful blessings in their home. The father insisted, “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.” (v.32).
Jesus finishes the story here, leaving it open-ended. We don’t know if the wayward son who returned home lived a life that was a proper response to the grace that he had received from his father. We don’t know if the older son relented and joined in the celebration of the return of his lost brother. We are simply left to consider the application of the story to our lives.
Most of us can see similarities in our own lives to each of these two brothers. We have had times when we did not appreciate what God has provided for us. Instead, we went our own way and didn’t come to our senses until we found ourselves in our own particular self-made pigpen. When we did decide to come home to our Father, we experienced his abounding grace, love and forgiveness.
Most of us can also see some of the older brother’s sin in our own lives. We may not have ventured out into the world of wild living, but as we went through the motions of performing our duties for our Father, we allowed ourselves to become self-righteous, unappreciative of what we have and hard-hearted toward our brothers and sisters.
In this tale of two sons, we are challenged to live a life that is a proper response to the grace that God has shown us in Jesus. And let’s remember that we must also extend his grace to those who have repented and returned to him.