“The Prodigal Son”, by G.P. Paltz (notice the older brother in the black darkness in the background behind the sheep)
DayBreaks for 8/01/16 – The Journey of Two Brothers
Of all the parables in the Bible, the story known as the Prodigal Son on Luke 15 is by far my favorite. It speaks to me at such a visceral level. Perhaps that’s why I appreciated this Sunday’s message so much. I’m not going to try to re-deliver the sermon to you, but at the end, the key question the teacher posed to us was simply this: “Which brother are you?”
One brother was (at least in the beginning of the story) a prideful rebel. Prideful rebels are deceived by the allure of the world and all it offers, thinking about themselves and acting as if they are the center of the universe. It’s all about their wants and wishes and desires.
The other brother was the religious moralist. He felt he’d done everything right and was therefore better than his prideful rebel younger brother.
Which am I? Well, let me see…
When I was younger, I was much more like the religious moralist. I grew up in a legalistic church where you didn’t dare sin or you could expect the immediate and unremitting wrath of God to descend upon you. One of the common debates was “If a believer sins and dies before they can ask forgiveness, will they go to heaven?” And so, in my zealous youth, I felt pretty self-righteous (most of the time). So in my younger years, I would have been the older brother, the religious moralist who didn’t really feel that God would have to stoop very low at all to lift me and carry me through the pearly gates.
Then, I seemed to move in mid-life, into being more like the prideful rebel. I began to think about all the things I’d missed in my younger years because I was so straight-laced and circumspect. The world and its allure pressed in on me and Satan whispered into my ear about all that I’d not experienced, all those things that looked so fun and fulfilling. I never did go really wild at all (my legalistic upbringing made that impossible for me), but I became ever more conscious that I wasn’t such a good person after all – even if I gave the outward appearance of being one. So, I’d become like the younger brother at least in my mind, if not in my actions.
Then, like the younger brother, I “came to my senses” and realized that my life was not where it needed to be. I also came to realize that it never would be what it needed to be. That is where I find myself today.
So my answer to the question “Which brother are you?” is simply this: I am both. I have been both. I suspect that I will continue to be both. Why? Because I have moments of being a religious moralist when I compare myself to others who are prideful rebels, and I have moments of bring a prideful rebel when I leave God out of my thoughts.
How do I feel about being both? I think that it is the perspective of the years and the tireless work of the Spirit that has brought me to this point. This point is the point of grace and nothing more: realizing how sinful I am whether or not at the moment I am the religious moralist (older brother) or the prideful rebel (younger brother). I just flat out desperately need Jesus and always will!
I guess another way of thinking about it is that I am “every man”…for I suspect each of us has both the prideful rebel and religious moralist in us.
One more key point that I’d heard for the first time today: in the culture of the day when this parable was spoken, the older son would have been honor bound to go out searching for the younger brother until he’d found him and brought him “home”. For all of us who are frequently religious moralists, that should pin us to the wall in repentance…for all too often our attitude toward the prideful rebel is to avoid them, shun them and stay as far away from them as possible. In Jesus’ parable (which was Jesus’ own self-defense of his ministry to teach the Pharisees and scribes why he was hanging out with the tax collectors and sinners), the very point was that the religious moralists (Pharisees/scribes) were angry with Jesus for being with the prideful rebels. Religious moralists have a tendency to not only be angry, but jealous in their hearts of the experiences of the prideful sinner (we get that sense from the older brother’s words in the story.) Jesus’ point is clear: you have been blessed with the truth and therefore you have obligations to the prideful rebels. Rather than spitting on them with your words and actions, go out and bring them home! If that doesn’t give us all pause as Christians when we see the iniquity of the prideful rebels around us, shame on us. For religious moralists may be farther from the kingdom than the prideful rebel will ever be.
Thank God for His grace!
PRAYER: Lord, I can look back from the perspective of nearly 6-1/2 decades and see how desperately I needed you, and need you, to save me. I will be eternally grateful for the fact that you ran to greet me when I’d been far away and that you have always been with me and that all you have is now mine through Christ Jesus. Keep us from willful rebellion and from religious and moral pride…and let us always be filled with the deepest appreciation for teaching us our true nature and need for you! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Copyright 2016, Galen C. Dalrymple. All rights reserved.
From the DayBreaks archive, July 2006: