What if the Prodigal Son met the Older Brother First?
Are You the Father or the Brother?
Four years ago, I worked as a FOCUS missionary at Texas State University in San Marcos. As a missionary, part of my job was to mentor students on how to pray, how to live out the Gospel and how to share the Gospel with their peers.
On this particular day, I was meeting up with one of our rockstar student leaders Sarah Goulas. She is goofy in the best sort of way, and I am at least goofy, so I decided that we were going to get creative for our time together. We decided to use toy dinosaurs to go on campus and act out the gospel message for anyone who would listen. I know, this does not sound very cool; it wasn’t. I remember telling my boss about it, and he replied, “ Hmmm, good job, I would have never done that.”
As we walked on campus, another student in our program yelled at us from across the quad, “ What are you doing?” “Dinosaur gospel presentations, Duh!” we replied. “Do you know anyone who wants to hear about the gospel with these dinos?”
“Um, I would be interested.”
Sarah and I turned around to see a young man, nerdy, sitting on the giant bobcat. We walked over in good faith and used our dinosaurs to act out the gospel (God made man, man sinned, we can’t get back to God, so he came down to us in His Son Jesus who is now our salvation) laughing all the way through.
The young man spoke with us for a while and then asked one of the best questions that I have ever received from someone who is clearly smart and is obviously searching. “Explain to me how the incarnation could be possible on a mathematical level.”
So I took a stab and explained to him that because we sinned, we created an infinite chasm between God and man. We are finite and therefore cannot fix a problem of infinity but for the infinite, there is no problem with the finite, and so an unlimited God became a limited man to bridge the infinite chasm between us.
By the grace of God, this little brainiac mentioned that he thought I gave a good explanation, but it is the next thing that he said that broke my heart. He told us that he had been searching and that he had gone to the Catholic center the prior year looking for answers. No one would indulge him, and so he left and never went back.
We talked for a while, and we got his number to invite him to stuff, but as we walked away, Sarah and I were bothered that he had come home looking for a welcome and found none. I told my teammate the story that night and he responded, “ When the prodigal son comes home to meet the older brother before meeting the father, he leaves because he is not welcome.”
WOW FREAKING WOW!
Dear church, we live in a world of many prodigals who are begging to come back simply to be servants when the Father wants to make them sons. Are we coldly blocking them from the Father’s love by meeting them as the older brother high up from our tower of morality?
What many of us don’t realize is that the sin of the prodigal son is the same as the sin of the self-righteous brother. The younger brother rebelled against the Father because he did not love the Father, he loved himself and his passions. The older brother rebelled against the father because he did not love the Father, he loved himself and his morality. Licentiousness and loveless rule following are both rejections of the Father’s love; it is the same root of a deceitful heart with a different face.
We live in a hurting world, and every heart is broken at some level. Each of us needs to be greeted by the love and mercy of a perfect God who won’t even allow us to make it into the house before he is hugging us despite our filth. I have heard before that the parable of the prodigal son should be called the parable of an extravagant Father. The Father meets the son and celebrates his return way before the son can get his life together. It is the LOVE and MERCY of the Father and leads the son to repentance, and it is the smug righteousness of the older brother that has the most power to drive him away, back into a life of destruction.
This year in the year of mercy I must ask, are we try to run out of our comfortable churches and homes to meet our world before they can even get to our doors? Or are we waiting for them to come to us and straighten up? Are we willing to embrace the sin of this world in the persona of the God who desires so much to save it? Or are we too clean? We Christians should be engaging everyone we can in this year of mercy even if it means we must be embarrassed or uncomfortable. Do we know our Lord well enough to represent Him with the extravagance that he desires? Can we present a kindness to the world in such a way that will inspire it to change?
For so long, we have been a Church largely of older brothers not realizing that we too desperately need the extravagant mercy of a loving God. We must leave this persona behind, greet our neighbor and introduce them to the One who makes all things new. It is He who desires to make us sons, let us not be the ones to turn others away.