Thus far in the Saviour’s parable there is no discordant note to jar the harmony of the scene of joy; but now Christ introduces another element. When the prodigal came home, the elder son “was in the field; and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in.” This elder brother has not been sharing in his father’s anxiety and watching for the one that was lost. He shares not, therefore, in the father’s joy at the wanderer’s return. The sounds of rejoicing kindle no gladness in his heart. He inquires of a servant the reason of the festivity, and the answer excites his jealousy. He will not go in to welcome his lost brother. The favor shown the prodigal he regards as an insult to himself.
When the father comes out to remonstrate with him, the pride and malignity of his nature are revealed. He dwells upon his own life in his father’s house as a round of unrequited service, and then places in mean contrast the favor shown to the son just returned. He makes it plain that his own service has been that of a servant rather than a son. When he should have found an abiding joy in his father’s presence, his mind has rested upon the profit to accrue from his circumspect life. His words show that it is for this he has foregone the pleasures of sin. Now if this brother is to share in the father’s gifts, the elder son counts that he himself has been wronged. He grudges his brother the favor shown him. He plainly shows that had he been in the father’s place, he would not have received the prodigal. He does not even acknowledge him as a brother, but coldly speaks of him as “thy son.”
Yet the father deals tenderly with him. “Son,” he says, “thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” Through all these years of your brother’s outcast life, have you not had the privilege of companionship with me?
Everything that could minister to the happiness of his children was freely theirs. The son need have no question of gift or reward. “All that I have is thine.” You have only to believe my love, and take the gift that is freely bestowed.
One son had for a time cut himself off from the household, not discerning the father’s love. But now he has returned, and the tide of joy sweeps away every disturbing thought. “This thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.”
Was the elder brother brought to see his own mean, ungrateful spirit? Did he come to see that though his brother had done wickedly, he was his brother still? Did the elder brother repent of his jealousy and hardheartedness? Concerning this, Christ was silent. For the parable was still enacting, and it rested with His hearers to determine what the outcome should be.
By the elder son were represented the unrepenting Jews of Christ’s day, and also the Pharisees in every age, who look with contempt upon those whom they regard as publicans and sinners. Because they themselves have not gone to great excesses in vice, they are filled with self-righteousness. Christ met these cavilers on their own ground. Like the elder son in the parable, they had enjoyed special privileges from God. They claimed to be sons in God’s house, but they had the spirit of the hireling. They were working, not from love, but from hope of reward. In their eyes, God was an exacting taskmaster. They saw Christ inviting publicans and sinners to receive freely the gift of His grace–the gift which the rabbis hoped to secure only by toil and penance–and they were offended. The prodigal’s return, which filled the Father’s heart with joy, only stirred them to jealousy.
In the parable the father’s remonstrance with the elder son was Heaven’s tender appeal to the Pharisees. “All that I have is thine”–not as wages, but as a gift. Like the prodigal, you can receive it only as the unmerited bestowal of the Father’s love.
Self-righteousness not only leads men to misrepresent God, but makes them coldhearted and critical toward their brethren. The elder son, in his selfishness and jealousy, stood ready to watch his brother, to criticize every action, and to accuse him for the least deficiency. He would detect every mistake, and make the most of every wrong act. Thus he would seek to justify his own unforgiving spirit. Many today are doing the same thing. While the soul is making its very first struggles against a flood of temptations, they stand by, stubborn, self-willed, complaining, accusing. They may claim to be children of God, but they are acting out the spirit of Satan. By their attitude toward their brethren, these accusers place themselves where God cannot give them the light of His countenance.
Many are constantly questioning, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before Him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?” But “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Micah 6:6-8.
This is the service that God has chosen–“to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke, . . . and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh.” Isa. 58:6, 7. When you see yourselves as sinners saved only by the love of your heavenly Father, you will have tender pity for others who are suffering in sin. You will no longer meet misery and repentance with jealousy and censure.
When the ice of selfishness is melted from your hearts, you will be in sympathy with God, and will share His joy in the saving of the lost.
It is true that you claim to be a child of God; but if this claim be true, it is “thy brother” that was “dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” He is bound to you by the closest ties; for God recognizes him as a son. Deny your relationship to him, and you show that you are but a hireling in the household, not a child in the family of God.
Though you will not join in the greeting to the lost, the joy will go on, the restored one will have his place by the Father’s side and in the Father’s work. He that is forgiven much, the same loves much. But you will be in the darkness without. For “he that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” 1 John 4:8. E. G. White. Christ’s Object Lessons. “Lost and Is Found.” Chap 16.
1- Make a list of people you know who have turn their back on Jesus Christ or are living in sin and lift them up in prayer.