Best of Daily Reflections: Do You Suffer With Older Brother Syndrome?
The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!' "
The parable we know as The Prodigal Son doesn’t end with the joyous return of the younger son to his father. In fact, this son is not even present in the last section of the story. It focuses, instead, on the older brother and his interaction with the father.
When we left the parable yesterday, the “prodigal” father had just welcomed home his son with an extravagant party. The loud music caught the attention of the older son who was working in the fields. A servant reported to him the reason for the celebration: the return of his younger brother.
The older brother did not share his father’s joy. In fact, he didn’t even join the party. When his father came out to get him, the older brother complained: “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!” (15:29-30).
Can you understand the older brother’s unhappiness? I can. As the perennial “good kid,” I used to look down my nose on my classmates who got into trouble by making terrible choices. If, when those classmates were caught by the authorities, they received a grand celebration rather than detention, I know I’d have been peeved. So, I can imagine what’s going on in the head of the older brother. “My father is endorsing selfish and immoral behavior. Shouldn’t I be recognized for my faithfulness and decency? My father takes me for granted. He never appreciates me, etc.”
Those of us who suffer with “older brother syndrome” have a hard time with God’s grace. A part of us actually thinks we don’t need it because we’re good enough on our own. Thus, when others receive God’s amazing grace, we aren’t amazed or delighted. Instead, we’re bugged. Yet, the more we recognize our own sin, the more we see that we need God’s grace just as much as more obvious sinners, the more we’ll want to join the party when any sinner says “yes” to God’s offer of forgiveness and restoration.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever found yourself in a position like that of the older brother? How did you feel? How did you act? What do you think opens our hearts to celebrate God’s lavish grace?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, you know that I often suffer with the “older brother syndrome.” I don’t mind when others receive your grace. But I don’t want it to be too lavish. I don’t want them to receive more than I have. Thus, I can miss out on your joy over the repentance of sinners. I can lock myself out of your party.
Help me, dear Lord, to see just how much I rely on your grace. Keep me from self-absorption and “grace-greed.” Give me, instead, a generous and rejoicing heart. May I celebrate with you when sinners return to you, sinners who are, in the end, just like me.
All praise be to you, lavish, gracious, forgiving, celebrating God! Amen.