The man stopped hoeing and straightened up, wiping sweat and grime from his forehead. He thought he had heard unusual sounds coming from the house. Strains of music drifted across the field and, he thought, shouts and laughter as well. What was going on?
Well, it was way past quitting time anyway. He swung the hoe over his shoulder and trudged over the freshly turned-up field toward the house.
As he drew nearer, the music grew louder. He could tell the wine must be flowing freely; the dancing and merriment were in full swing.
Father must have a real reason for celebration, he thought.
Just then a servant came scurrying out.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Your brother has come home!” the servant replied. “Your father has killed the fatted calf, and we are all rejoicing because your brother is safe and sound. Please, your father wants you to join the celebration—come!”
The man’s face darkened. So this was what they were celebrating—his brother’s return? His irresponsible, wild, loose-living, inheritance-wasting brother? How dare he return after all the years of grief and uncertainty he had caused! A storehouse of angry memories flooded him.
“I will have no part of this celebration!” he spat at the servant. “You can tell my father I will not go in!”
And he turned on his heel.
We are all familiar with the story in Luke 15 of the man and his two sons. We know the younger brother as the Prodigal Son, but the story is really about the love of his father.
Jesus had been criticized by the Pharisees and scribes because He chose to eat with the publicans and sinners. “Look at this man,” they whispered to each other. “He says He’s God, but look who He eats with!”
Jesus’ dinner companions were indeed reputed to be the worst members of society. But the Pharisees misunderstood God’s holiness to mean He would have nothing to do with sinners. So Jesus told them the story of the man and his sons to show them the heart of the Father. He was saying to them, “God has everything to do with sinners, because He loves them.”
It is plain to see that the younger son represents the sinner, the outcast. But let’s take a closer look at the older son.
The older son is a picture of the believer, someone who knows the Lord and is within the fold of believers. What was he doing when the younger son finally returned? Working out in the fields. He was committed to his father and to his work. In appearance, anyhow, he loved his father more than his brother did. He never left home or gambled his money away.
The older brother is a classic illustration of the individual who seems to be doing a lot of good and whose life is full of activity but who may be motivated horizontally, not vertically. The motivation keeping the older brother going was not genuine love for his father. When his brother returned and adverse circumstances bore down on him, the truth came out.
The older brother was “perfect.” He sacrificed and worked long hours. He gave money faithfully for missions every month. He cut back on his lifestyle and lived more simply. He prayed an hour every day. He was active in his church. He always went the extra mile.
Am I talking about you and me? I am. But as we are in the midst of good activity, sometimes things begin to go wrong. Wow! we say to ourselves. I didn’t realize I would ever face rejection for doing the right thing. I thought everyone would appreciate my hard work. I thought I’d get a few rewards, a little recognition . . .
When external pressures bear upon us and jolt the jar, whatever is inside comes out. This jolting is orchestrated by the Lord, who wants us to see what is really in our hearts.
Why did the older son act the way he did? He felt taken for granted, and was angry with his father for receiving his younger brother back, who had done wrong while he had done right.
If we look carefully at Luke 15, we can see signs that something was missing in the older brother. He had lost the genuine motivation of his heart—his love for his father.