Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’ (Luke 15:25-32)
The older son’s problem is that he doesn’t realize what it means for him to be a son. He is out in the field working (like one of the hired servants), rather than being at the center of the action in his father’s house. As a result, he misses out on the best of his father’s celebrations, resources, and attention; in fact, he doesn’t seem to have much of a relationship with his father at all. Even some of the hired servants know more of what’s going on in his household than he does! He doesn’t know about the party until he approaches the house and hears the music because, although he lives under his father’s rooftop, he’s not spending his time in the household. Then, when he hears the music and dancing, he refuses to go into the party, despite the pleading of his father.
He is upset because he has been working so hard to earn his father’s attention, love, and generosity. And his feelings have grown into a jealousy of his brother, and have even caused him to be offended with his father. He thinks that because he has followed his father’s commands, his father owes him blessing. But his father responds from an entirely different perspective. He had already made his wealth available to both sons (Luke 15:12), and had considered the resources of his household to belong as much to his oldest son as it did to himself (Luke 15:31). The father wanted more than just obedience–he wanted a relationship with his son, to celebrate over his son’s successes, and to be a physical part of his son’s life.
It’s unfortunate that the elder son has wasted so much time striving to get his father’s attention and affection when he had it all along and could have been enjoying life with his father. It’s even more unfortunate that he is spending so much energy being critical and jealous of his brother that he can’t loosen up to enjoy a good party with his whole family. He seems to have a serious adversion to having fun–maybe because he feels he doesn’t deserve it, or because he sees there is so much work to do–whatever the case, he’s the one choosing not to engage. It’s too bad because his father is all about fun. This is a big party: a feast with music and dancing!
We can learn a lot from the older son:
- Are we, Christians, offended or caught up in our brothers (and sisters) business in a way that is preventing us from enjoying our own relationship with God our Father?
- Might we be so focused on doing things for God that we miss out on celebrating in His presence?
- Have we created so many rules for our faith that we are repulsed by any sort of celebrating–even if it’s God’s own party?
- Do we know how to have fun and party with God or would we rather busy ourselves with work in the field?
- Are we more often overwhelmed with offense, jealousy and skepticism or joy, love, and peace?
- Do we recognize that God is loving, forgiving, joyful and fun-loving, or do we feel He is angry, disapproving and solemn toward us?
God wants His children to be able to enjoy Him. That’s what this thing is about: He created humanity because He wanted a bigger family to love and enjoy. Even after we have rejected Him, He still desires us. That’s why God came as a man–as Jesus, His son, the physical representation of the invisible God. He came to reconcile the people of the world to Himself–to invite us to join His Kingdom as His sons and daughters the way He had intended all along. When He comes a second time, He will be taking His love a step further by reconciling the whole physical world to Himself as well. He has done so much for us! Let’s forgive our brothers, be reconciled to God and join the party!