The (Other) Prodigal Son

09.25.17 | by Josh Conrad

    The older son never left home, yet he’s as lost as his brother was.

    Have you ever read Jesus’ parable of The Prodigal Son in Luke 15 from the perspective of the older son? While the younger son gets most of the attention in the parable, the older son’s heart is just as misguided and broken, and just as much in need of healing.

    The younger son in Jesus’ story makes clear to his father that he wishes to leave the family and wants his share of the inheritance. The older son, determined to out-shine his brother’s selfish rejection of their father, begins to build his case to earn love and approval by working for his father year over year. The older son is even in the fields working when the younger son returns, and his pile of accomplishments meant to earn the father’s love turns to resentment and bitterness as his father celebrates the younger son’s long-awaited return. The older son has spent his life striving to earn the father’s love, yet the father’s indulgent welcome to the younger son disrupts everything the older son thought he understood about love and acceptance.

    The older son is the (other) prodigal in the story. Where the younger son fled publicly, the older son fled privately. He may have physically stayed with his father, but his heart ran away long ago. The father, fresh from receiving the younger son back to the family and throwing him a ‘Welcome Home’ party, leaves the feast to win the heart of the older son. His soft correction at the end of the parable completely reframes the older son’s perspective when he says “You’ve always stayed with me, and everything I have is yours.”

    That promise (“everything I have is yours”) is for the (other) prodigals. It’s for the older sons who have remained in the flesh but fled in the spirit. It’s for those who have silently ached in the hope of earning their Father’s love. It’s for me, because I am the (other) prodigal. My heart has been won back by the Father’s kindness time and time again, and so can yours. But you need to stop striving. Stop building your case. Ignore the instinct to earn what God has given to you freely, and find your greatest satisfaction in His undeserved, unmerited, and never-ending grace. Learn what He means when He says “everything I have is yours.” Learn what it means to return, even though you never left.

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