Monday, April 20, 2009

The Older Brother

Near the end of the story of the Prodigal son, the older brother wouldn't join in the celebration of his younger brother's return. He doesn't party because he is angry, mad because the celebration is not for him. Mad because the younger brother came back and the father doted on him, restored his role as son (without the inheritance), and loved the younger, foolish son.

Even more interestingly, the older brother pulls out the guilt card. "Didn't I stay here and work my butt off? Didn't I do everything you wanted of me? I didn't waste your money! I didn't go off and screw around. I did over and above your wishes...and you never threw me a party...not even a special meal or a 'Isn't my son a good son' party. NOOOOO! I don't even get a happy meal. But here, this wasteful brat comes back, after making the farm nearly go bust when you paid him all that cash, and for three years I have had to go without because of him. And what thanks do I get...Nothing!"

The older brother worked for the father's approval and didn't feel he got it...or enough of it. When we try to work for the Father's approval, we don't get it because the nature of grace means we can't earn it. Approval is the basis of a 'works-based' philosophy. I earn it and IT SHOULD BE GIVEN TO ME EQUIVALENT TO HOW HARD I WORK!!! These people are always hard, harsh and bitter because they are bound to the letter of the law. Do they get approval....not so much because their motives stink....they are self-centered and arrogant. Prideful, they have to get what they think they deserve...they have rights by golly. It stinks to be them because there is no grace for them because they cannot receive it...they think they have to earn it.

The younger son was accepted by the father, even though he didn't deserve it and didn't expect it. All he wanted was a warm meal and a place to sleep. No favor. And he got so much more!!! Humbly, he walks up a veeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyy long road (don't you know don't know that was hard for him, rehearsing a very humiliating narrative in his head). He smelled like pig manure (don't you know that made him popular in the Jewish community) and had nothing..nothing! Grace is the only thing he had coming to him. No pride. No blaming. He messed up, there was no denying that. And with that, mercy was poured out, grace was multiplied. He got what the older son couldn't earn...his father's acceptance. Acceptance can only be given, not earned. Acceptance is there to be humbly received by the lesser with greater one giving it...anything less is empty.

And that is what the older son felt. Nothing was good enough. In his pride, he thought he could control how the father felt, but couldn't. Actually working for other's approval is a thinly disguised ploy to find significance and purpose for ourselves through the cudos of others. The older brother thought he could earn what could only be, acceptance, favor. So he ended up with nothing.

Who is the older brother in our time? I believe it can be we who try to earn grace, those of us who think we can be theologically correcter (sp) than everyone else and if we can, then by golly, God will see how hard we....worked....then.....he will...hmmmmm. But whose approval are we going after... Our Father has already said we can't earn it on our own. We may want to think it is by our effort, that we can work as hard as we can and 'God will do the rest.' I have some disappointing news for you....that's not how God works. God is waiting at the top of the hill, waiting for a manure covered loser to humbly walk up the road....

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