The Parable of the Loving Father (Luke 15) is better known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
You know this one: the boy who gets his piece of the family fortune, blows it all, and slinks home, only to fall half-dead into the arms of his father, who wants nothing more of him than to have him back. And dad throws a party.
And that’s where the story ends, right? Nope, the story ends with this guy.
“All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’
The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’
His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”
(The Message translation)
We know the Prodigal, and we know The Elder Brother, too. He works hard. He colors inside the lines. He tucks his shirt in. He saves his money. He goes to school, and graduates. He goes to church every Sunday. He finishes everything he starts. He makes his momma proud and says yessir. He has a bright future. He’s a success.
But inside, behind the self-deprecating smile and the confident handshake, he’s a mess. He resents his little brother, and his resentment has been brewing and simmering for months. They say resentment is a poison you drink trying to kill the other guy. Upon hearing that the boy is back, the Elder Brother tells himself that he’s righteously indignant: but he’s dying inside, and doesn’t even know it.
He blows up, slinks away, and sulks alone. Now he’s mad at his brother, and his father. The Loving Father tries to get through to him. His father makes it clear he loves both of them, regardless, but he won’t listen. Two boys, so different, the same in their father’s eyes.
It’s a moment of Choice. The Elder Brother could wake up, take a breath, realize that Grace is big enough for both of them, let go of his self-righteousness, and join the party. The festive occasion happens on the day that his brother returns. But will he realize that the party is for him, too? For them both? For them all?
The context of the story is the Prodigal’s return. But the story ends with the Elder Brother, because it’s directed at the Elder Brother in us all. Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell us what happens next. He leaves that moment of Choice hanging, placing the Choice before everyone listening to him, including us. Will we realize and accept that Grace is for all? Will we comprehend that the Grace of God is big enough for all, and then extend graciousness to everyone, no matter what?