Christianity 201

October 19, 2010

Prodigal Son: Seeing Yourself in the Story

It seems lately, every time I turn on the computer or pick up a book or magazine, I’m reading someone’s take on the story of the wayward son.   This simple narrative is multi-dimensional; a richness and depth bubbles under the surface awaiting discovery.

Here’s blogger Michael Krahn‘s take on it which he titled:

8 Traits Of An Older Brother

In our haste to name things, we often call the parable found in Luke 15 “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” but the parable is as much about the older brother as it is the younger. In fact some (like Tim Keller) would argue that it is actually MORE about the older brother.

If you grew up in the church – like I did – you are probably more like the older brother. Here is a list of traits that I can certainly identify with.

1. We think highly of ourselves

We think so highly of ourselves that we expect God to think like us instead of the other way around. Grace doesn’t work according to our logic. It doesn’t make sense to us that it does two things simultaneously:

1.     It overlooks wrong
2.    While it transforms repentant sinners

“It can’t do both – it’s not fair!  Prodigals can come back but we should never forget what they’ve done. If we do they’ll think they can do it again without consequence!”

2. We have a “good reputation”

We’re thought of (by others and ourselves) as “good”… not having major faults… not really struggling with sin. The reality is that we’re just better at hiding these things.

3. We take pride in our consistency

We’ve been here the whole time, going to church! We’ve had to sit through all the poorly performed worship songs, all the badly delivered sermons. Those prodigals need to do the same before we can see them as equals!

4. We save our freedom for future reward

Prodigals use their freedom to experience and consume. This is the path of self-discovery. Their thinking is that unused freedom is wasted freedom.

Older brothers resist using their freedom.  Instead we save it up, thinking of it as an investment that will compound like money saved inside a mutual fund, doubling in size every 10 years or so. Our thinking is that freedom used NOW is freedom wasted and that by saving and sacrificing now we’ll have more and will be able to get more later than we ever could now. Self-denial now in exchange for lavish self-indulgence later.

5. We need prodigals to make us look better

Older brothers need prodigals because they provide us with an easy comparison to rise above. “Your extravagant sin makes me look better – it takes the attention off my minor faults. Thank you!”

When the father says, “He was dead but now he’s alive!” we mutter, “I wish he was still dead. It was better for me that way.”

6. We harbor unacknowledged envy

When the prodigal returns, his life is turned upside-down because he discovers that his father loves by different rules than he does. He has been out doing all the things that the older brother, in truth, would also love to be doing but doesn’t because he believes he is storing up extra grace for himself.

Is this perhaps one reason why we too react badly when a prodigal returns? Do we harbor some envy at the life of wine, women, and song (or “wine coolers, firemen, and dance music” for the ladies) they’ve experienced?

It causes us to question: What has all my self-denial been good for?!?!

7. We think God owes us

Because of this we sometimes see grace as a bit of a rip-off. Partly because we don’t think we need very much of it, but also because grace dictates that obedience can never be a way to obtain rights.

If your perception of your relationship with God is that you think you’ve earned something or that you’ve done so much good that God owes you something, you are in danger. This is typical older brother thinking.

8. We are likely to be punitive

We take a punitive position on prodigals. We say that they need to pay for what they’ve done – in essence to pay their way up to our status level. But that’s not the way grace works. If it did it wouldn’t be grace.

On the rare occasion that a prodigal returns, do they see in you a father waiting with open arms or the scowling face of an older brother?

by Michael Krahn.

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