I tend to fall into the trap of thinking that, after hearing a story a certain number of times, I know all there ever is to know about it. Same with Bible verses. I hear some of them enough times (say, Phil. 4:13), and I don’t let it affect me the way that it should.
I’ve felt that way about the Prodigal Son, which is probably Jesus’ most famous and heartfelt story of God’s forgiveness toward sinners. But there’s something I never noticed until tonight:
But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him
The wayward son leaves the home, squanders his inheritance, gets the trash kicked out of him by life, and returns home to a loving father and a banquet. The older brother refuses to go in, prompting the father to go out and invite him to the party.
Here’s what I’m wondering: Why does the father go after the older brother but not the son?
Yes, the text says that the father saw the younger son when he was a ways off and ran to him, but that’s not the same thing as leaving the house and searching for him. It’s like the father waits for the younger son, but the older son, he needs to be sought after, to be caught. Why?
Here’s a theory of mine (and it’s open for debate): The older son might be the son who was in greater danger and sin.
People who are suffering the consequences of their lives, who have been ostracized by friends and family, I think they won’t have too much trouble believing they’re not perfect. It’s easier to know that you need a change when you’ve hit rock bottom.
But people who are convinced that they have it together, they’re a different and sadder tale. People who realize the house is on fire can try to escape or call for help, increasing the odds of their getting rescued. There is no hope for someone who doesn’t even realize there is a fire.
So maybe, just maybe, that’s why the father runs to the older brother, because that son’s sin would never lead to the kind of bottoming-out that his sibling had experienced. Perhaps it would be just the opposite. The older brother could develop a reputation for being a godly man who doesn’t struggle (although really, his sins are just better hidden). And that will only reinforce the falsehood.
So the father runs to him, pleading with him to not miss the party (and going to this party would obviously mean accepting the younger brother whom he hates and welcoming him back into the family). But the older brother refuses and, although his feet never leave the floor, he’s running away from his father as fast as he can.
So for us “older siblings”, check yourself. Study your life and your actions. Study your heart: Does it love God? Your neighbors and enemies? Do you even realize there’s a problem?