Lost and Found
TWO SONS part three
Intro: The elder brother did not take full possession of his share (66%) of the property when the division was made. Instead, the father transferred ownership in title to take effect at the time of his death, according to custom. He retained for himself the lifetime use of whatever the estate produced. Therefore, the elder son continued to work on the estate under that authority of his father, even though he held the title to the property. And his work ethic never seemed to waver. He had been busy in the fields. Since he was conscientiously on the job, he only discovers what had transpired between his wayward brother and his father little by little.
He has been offstage since he was introduced in v.11.
Luke 15:25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
Luke 15:26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.
The older son being out in the field looks like a minor detail, but it is actually a metaphor of the older son’s separation from his father. The younger son was separated overtly (for all to see), but the older son covertly (barely perceptible).
The lack of joy in the older son’s heart makes him suspicious of joy elsewhere. The joyless heart finds isolation safer than the risks involved in participation.
The household servant answers the older brother directly and naturally. What the father had done seemed normal to him.
Luke 15:27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
But to the elder brother, this news not only unexpected, it was also infuriating. There was no way he would give his approval to this development.
He may have found a way to tolerate the joy, if it had concerned anyone but his brother. But mentioning the brother and the father stoke the embers of resentment into a burning flame.
Luke 15:28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.
It is a good thing the father saw the prodigal son before his brother did. If the elder brother had met him first, his reception would have gone differently.
We would have expected the older brother to blast his wayward counterpart: “You have a lot of nerve to come back here!” “Get a job somewhere else!” “Go away!”
Those are some things we might have thought to say. But in an honor/shame culture, here is what he likely would have said: “I will kill you to restore our family’s honor in this community!”
The last thing in the world the elder brother wanted to do was celebrate his worldly brother’s return. But, alas, the father saw him first.
Just as the father had run out to meet his younger son, so, again dishonoring himself, he leaves the banquet over which he is host to plead with his elder son.
It is noteworthy that the father also goes out to the elder brother to invite him to come to the party. He does not show partiality but treats both his sons with the same tenderness and affection.
His wealth and status were such that he did not have to “ask” much of anyone at any time. Typically, he gave orders. But here, he makes a humble appeal. And this releases a flood of protest.
Luke 15:29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.
The younger son had rehearsed a speech for his father, and here we learn that the elder brother had done the same.
His argument: (a) he has been a model son (b) he has done everything his father ever asked of him (c) he has “slaved” for his father’s benefit (d) he has yet to receive any recognition, much less a celebration of this magnitude
This outburst betrays a long smoldering discontent.
The proud and the self-righteous always feel that they are not treated as well as they deserve.
His self-righteousness was blinding to him. He felt like a slave in his father’s house, proving that he really did not understand what being a son meant.
It is easy to see how lost the prodigal son was, but do you see how lost the elder brother was?
What does it say that the coveted party the older son wished he had received did not included the father’s presence?
It says that he was no better than his younger brother. Both sons wanted their father’s wealth, but not their father’s fellowship.
Even though he had never left the family farm, he had abandoned the father’s heart, and thus he was lost in a far country even though he still lived at home.
The elder brother in the parable is one of the most spiritually unattractive people in the Bible. He is stingy, self-pitying, resentful, proud, bitter, unrepentant, unforgiving, and unwilling to show grace to other sinners.
The only things he knew how to celebrate were his own accomplishments.
The irony of this scene is unmistakable: the offended insider is himself a resentful outsider. His corruption is on full display.
Luke 15:30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
The older son summarizes his brother’s behavior by substituting for Jesus’ earlier phrase, “wasted his possessions with prodigal living,” with “devoured your livelihood with harlots.”
His own interpretation was uncharitable speculation. He gave “prodigal living” his own definition of “devoured…with harlots.”
This revising was on purpose. He was distancing himself from his brother. He was honorable and responsible; his brother was disgraceful and reckless.
Did you notice that it was the music and dancing that offended the older son?
Of course, let the younger son come home. Judaism and Christianity have clear provisions for restoring a penitent returnee, but where does it say that such provisions include a banquet with celebration?
Yes, let the prodigal return: but to bread and water, not fattened calf; in sackcloth, not a new robe; wearing ashes, not a new ring; in tears, not in merriment; kneeling, not dancing on new sandals.
How is it that recklessness and shamelessness are rewarded with jubilation when responsibility and obedience have received no recognition?
How can this guy deserve such a fuss? The prodigal gets a fattened calf while I have never even received as much as a goat to revel with my friends!
This is Matthew 20:11-12 all over again, but with a vengeance.
Matt 20:11 And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner,
Matt 20:12 saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’
The older brother’s charges include sharp criticism of both brother and father. And yet the father’s response is no less tender…
Luke 15:31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.
Luke 15:32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”
The father is gentle but insistent. His sense of having been short-changed needed to be corrected.
When it came to the father’s estate, the elder son still had it all. But, like the Pharisees, he did not realized the extent of his privileges.
All his riches were and are constantly at his elder son’s disposal.
There has been no displacement of the older son: his place at the father’s side is as secure as ever, and his claim upon the family inheritance is in no way disturbed by this new development.
Worldlings who repent and receive grace represent no threat to those who have been faithful.
But the elder son has only been doing what is right; he should not imagine that he placed his father in his debt.
Luke 17:10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’”
As responsible as he has been in the home, it was still necessary for him to celebrate with the family the recovery of what was lost.
As the son of his father, the elder must embrace his father’s gracious will. If he really is his father’s son, he will copy his father’s actions. He will rejoice at the return of his wayward brother.
Remember: the father not only had two sons but loved two sons, went out to meet two sons (vv.20, 28), and was generous to two sons (vv.12, 22, 31).
The important question for each of us is: Are we still in the “far country” of sin where final ruin awaits us, or have we already turned with true repentance, thus to receive through grace the joy of full sonship as our portion for time and eternity? Or are we like the elder son, outwardly religious and respectable but inwardly still empty and estranged from God?
We tend to see ourselves as the prodigal son and rejoice in the welcoming love of God. This is good. It is even better if we go on to make the appropriate response to that love.
But we will also be benefitted by reflecting on the very real possibility that we are like the elder brother.
It is a common human failing to think that we are not appreciated as we ought to be, that people do not give us credit for what we have done.
And whether we are religious or not, we are usually somewhat judgmental towards those we see as having failed to live up to our standards, even if our standards are not their standards!
Luke 15:32 …for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”
With those words, the parable of the prodigal son ends.
No more words. Jesus simply walked away from the public venue where He was teaching. He moved into a more private setting with His own disciples, where He began to tell them another parable. The text shows the shift in v.33. “He also said to His disciples: ‘There was a certain rich man…’”
This is stunning. The ending is the thing in every story. We wait with anticipation for the grand finale. But this story leaves us hanging. But the abrupt ending doesn’t leave us without the point the point; it is the point.
Of all the surprising plot twists and startling details, this is the closing surprise: Jesus expertly shaped the point and then simply walked away without resolving the tension between the father and his first born.
He did it on purpose. He intentionally left the story unfinished.
Undoubtedly, Christ’s original hearers were left standing with their mouths open in stunned bewilderment. Eventually they must have voiced their questions. What happened? How did the elder son respond? What is the end of the story?
Of all people, the Pharisees would certainly want to know since the elder brother clearly represented them in the story.
Kenneth E. Bailey, Presbyterian minister and Bible scholar spent 40 years living and teaching the NT in Egypt, Lebanon, Cyprus and Israel. He provides fascinating analysis of the literary framework of the parable of the prodigal son.
The structure of the parable explains why Jesus left it unfinished. It naturally divides into two nearly equal parts. Each part is formulated into a mirrored pattern called a chiasm to facilitate the storytelling.
The first half, where the focus is on the younger brother, has eight stanzas or parts.
RETURN OF THE YOUNGER SON
A. Death – 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.
B. All is lost – 13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.
C. Rejection – 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
D. The problem – 17 But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
D1. The solution – 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’ 20 “And he arose and came to his father.
C1. Acceptance – But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.
B1. All is restored – 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.
A1. Resurrection – 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
The second half focused on the older brother. We expect it to also have 8 stanzas or parts. It only has 7.
PROTEST OF THE ELDER BROTHER
A. He stands aloof – 25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.
B. Your brother; Anger (a feast) – 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ 28 “But he was angry and would not go in.
C. Costly love – Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.
D. My actions, My pay – 29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.
D1. His actions, His pay – 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
C1. Costly love – 31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.
B1. Your brother; Joy! (a feast) – 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”
A1. The missing ending
The person who has caught even a glimpse of the loving forgiveness and open-hearted acceptance of the father in the story would a write a good ending that might go something like this:
Then the elder son fell on his knees before his father, saying, “I repent for my bitter, loveless heart, for my hypocritical service, and for my pride and self-righteousness. Forgive me, father. Make a me a true son and take me inside to the feast.” The father then embraced his first-born son, smothered him with tearful hugs and kisses, took him inside, and seated him alongside his brother in dual seats of honor. They all rejoiced together, and no one would ever forget that night.
That would be a perfect ending. But it is one we cannot write – especially for the scribes and Pharisees. They wrote their own ending, and it was nothing at all like that one.
Remember, Jesus told the whole parable to get their attention. It was a story about them. They are the elder brother.
If they had demanded to know the end of the parable on the spot, Jesus might well have said to them, “That is up to you.”
The Pharisees ultimate response to Jesus would write the end of the story in real life.
Therefore, we know how it the tale really ended, don’t we?
It is not a happy ending. Instead, it is another shocking plot twist. In fact, it is the greatest shock and outrage of all time.
They killed Him.
Since the father figure in the parable represents Jesus, and the elder brother represents the religious elite of Israel, in effect the missing ending of the story would read something like this: “The elder brother was outraged at his father’s mercy. It shamed the family even more. So he picked up a piece of lumber and beat him to death in front of everyone.”
I told you it was a shocking ending. The scribes’ and Pharisees’ hatred for Jesus grew from the day He told them the parable until they hatched a conspiracy to put Him to death.
Luke 22:1 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called Passover.
Luke 22:2 And the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might kill Him, for they feared the people.
In the end, they secured the reluctant cooperation of the Roman authorities, and even the collusion of King Herod – and they had Him crucified.