“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” …
What is the older brother feeling at this point in the story? Perhaps we could call it jealousy or envy, but I think it has more to do with that feeling we get when things aren’t fair. How many times in your childhood did you cry about being treated unfairly by a parent or a teacher or by some other kid who you probably stopped being friends with because he gave someone else more than he gave you? We have highly sensitive fairness receptors, especially when a perceived injustice is perpetrated against us. When we get short-changed or slighted in even the most trivial ways, indignation immediately boils over our hearts and erupts in attitudes, words and actions meant to defend our honor against unfair treatment.
Jesus included this unexpected twist in his parable because He knows the human heart. The older brother represents good, faithful people like you and me, people who follow Jesus, do our best to obey God’s word, keep ourselves from notorious sin and generally look down on people who act like the younger son in his lustful, reckless behavior. All the older brother wants is justice, fairness. He wants his little brother to be held accountable for his prodigal ways. Sin should be punished, and faithful service should be rewarded. That’s all he wants, and that’s what we want too when we see bad people doing bad things. They should suffer the just consequences of their actions, and we should be celebrated for all the good we do. Anything less just isn’t fair.
You might want to sit down for this next part. Jesus offers people grace, and grace isn’t fair. In fact, grace turns fairness upside-down, treating sinners with mercy instead of wrath. We love to sing about God’s grace when it flows over our lives, over our sin, but when God forgives someone else for their rotten, dirty transgressions, we turn into the older son who refuses to celebrate his brother’s homecoming. Maybe it’s pride or jealousy or just plain meanness, but we are often slow to rejoice in the grace God shows other sinners. The good news is that while grace isn’t fair, God never runs out of it. He can pour grace over your sin and my sin and still have plenty left to cover the sins of everyone else who comes home to his loving embrace.Father, I will never understand the mystery of Your grace, but I rejoice that my sins have been washed away through Jesus. Help me also to rejoice when You offer grace to others. I ask this in my Savior’s name. Amen.
Pastor Mike Mirakian