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The prodigal son and his brother

This week, our sermon centered on arguably Jesus’ best-known parable of all. The story is found in Luke 15: 11-32. There are several names we could use for it. Most often, it is referred to as The Parable of the Prodigal Son. A friend who teaches New Testament at a seminary up north calls this story Losing, Finding and Partying. My former church member and one of today’s eminent authorities on the parables, Dr. Peter Rhea Jones calls it The Parable of the Compassionate Father and the Angry Brother.

A question was asked recently in a peer group in which I participate, “If you had it to do all over again, would you do this again? Would you follow your calling into congregational ministry?” That’s a timely question. Estimates today are that up to one-third of clergy will quit in the post-Pandemic world. That means now or soon, anyway. 

If you ever thought we don’t work but a couple of hours on Sundays and an hour on Wednesday night — or that what we do is easy — that projection is your wake-up call. If you have harbored the delusion that being a pastor was easy, the already ongoing shortage of ministers worldwide the last several years was your canary in the coal mine. Then, a pandemic came along. 

The discussion that ensued around the question I just mentioned was fascinating. For so many, the resting place was that what we do in pursuing our sacred calling is for so many of us a form of “home.” So that leaving home was a step that some had considered, but none so far had obviously been willing to take. Most didn’t really want to, when we got down to it. Home is important, and love for our chosen spiritual families runs strong. 

We have here in the parable three main characters: the Father, the Son, and the Brother from this home. So the story plays out and eventually he makes his return. We have no idea what the angry brother decided. We write our own ending to this. Oftentimes in our lives, rejoicing is the biggest challenge. 

How do you relate to each of these main characters? This prodigal son ended up working for a pig farmer. This would have been a horror story to a Jewish audience. No animal was considered any dirtier than a pig; no food was any more forbidden in a kosher diet than pork. He came to himself in this dire situation.

Have you lived a similar realization? Your circumstances may have been different. Spiritually, have you had a moment where you came to yourself? Here we get a glimpse of true confession and what we need. Life is not changed until we confess that we desperately need something more than ourselves. 

We are never told whether the returned son got all the grace his father extended to him. Did the son return to his prodigal ways after being fed? We complete the ending of this one too. We don’t really like the younger brother here, most of us. His audacity to have asked for his portion of an inheritance he should have only received on his father’s death just rubs us the wrong way. 

Notice that the brother in our story refers to the Prodigal as, “…this son of yours.” He doesn’t refer to him as his own brother. Jealousy is a powerful emotion that gets in the way of our lives. This keeps us from being able to notice and even enjoy the work of God in our world. Fact is, the older Brother obeyed all the rules. He was a hard worker. He was not a bad person. But he missed the blessing, it seems. God’s grace is for everyone.

Bo Prosser has observed, “When fear or jealousy becomes the truth of my life rather than the liberation from fear or jealousy that comes from receiving Christ, I forfeit joy, abundance, gratitude and generosity. This absolutely changes the way I see myself as well as other people.”

Wealthy men of the Old and New Testament didn’t run. They had people to run for them. The life of Jesus is really a portrait of God running to greet us while we were still afar off. Hugging us and even kissing us. Being sure we have clothes to wear, and then showing us the way home.

DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.