Home > Encouragement > An Elder Son Who Restores 3-20-15

The “elder son.”

There is enough familiarity with Luke 15:11-32 throughout Christian conversation that the companion description of “prodigal son” often pops into mind whenever “elder son” is mentioned.

The elder son. The responsible son. The proper son. The obedient son.  And, as the parable unfolds, the son who co-owns everything that belongs to the father….yet settles for a superficial relationship, choosing the role of being an order-taker rather than a fellowship-seeker.  Eventually it is revealed that the elder son is rather hard-hearted, judgmental, angry, even prideful, unwilling to extend a heart of compassion and restoration when his repentant younger brother returns home.  The “high points” of the parable are so familiar, the details often slip through with little notice.

But this morning, I felt the Lord whisper a challenging concept: “Think of the populations of the world as My younger son….while My church has stood in the role of the elder son.  With Me, serving and having ‘never neglected a command.’ Happy to take orders and accomplish tasks, but never seeing My ‘younger son’ for who he is – My son,  lost in foreign lands, consumed with harlotry and its consequences, dwelling with pigs and left starving in a land without compassion.  Not even sure if I still care, unable to find the courage to even embrace Me once he tries to find the way home.”

Wow.  Not expected.

I had never considered an application of that parable in a manner so expansive,  so inclusive… and thinking about the suggested parallel gives me pause for reflection.  Paul taught in 2 Corinthians 5:19“that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (NASB)  Putting those two concepts together gave me a painful sense of…ouch.

So – my inner question is to ask, has “the church” often personified that elder son’s viewpoint in regards to the lost, the floundering, the embracers of immorality, the indifferent, the sought-but-not-yet-seeking?

And my response is – I think so.

I have also become convinced that there is “more to the story” regarding the elder son than I have been taught over the years.  For example, I have heard that the older son was conscientiously “doing what he was supposed to be doing” and that the plight of the younger brother – for better or for worse – was of no concern to him.  It was the father’s task to deal with the situation. I have also heard that the father considered the elder son’s task to be more important to finish, than to interrupt him with news of his brother’s return, and entreat him to come and join the celebration.  Hence, the father had made no attempt to inform the older brother of the turn of events.

But I understand more about the heart of the father, now.  And although I have some puzzlement as to why the father made no attempt to run out and share the exciting news,  I don’t think that the “job” of the elder son was to keep his nose in the field, irrespective of what happened around him. To have formed a “world of his own” with strict interactive parameters.   Something in the life of the elder son had gotten quite off track…and it appears to have begun with isolation and self-centeredness.

According to gospelresearch.org, the elder’s brother role in the Jewish family structure was one of helping “heal the broken relationship in the family,” possessing “a strong responsibility to act as mediator in such a family crisis…he should tell his father that he will set his (younger) brother straight.  He should argue with his brother.”  Moreover, his silence at the younger brother’s request for a division of the estate was a statement of its own.   Under Jewish Law, the elder brother “receives two thirds of the inheritance and the younger brother would only receive one third (Deut. 21:17)” *

So where was the older brother’s heart at the time of the younger brother’s request?  Not in preserving the father’s estate.  Not in preventing the younger son’s potential self-ruination.  Not in trying to heal the broken relationship.  Ironically, not even in carrying out his elder-son responsibilities as defined by his Jewish culture and heritage.

Which brings me back to thinking about a parallel between “the church” as the older brother….and those with whom God is seeking active reconciliation, as the younger. They are both far from the heart of the father, and He is ever-yearning to see them reunited with Him.  Just as Paul taught about “God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself,” the next section of scripture reads, “and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:19, italics added, NASB)

Us.  If we who know Him and walk with Him are, indeed, living out a parallel to this elder-brother/younger-brother scenario…then the intent of the parable is to open our eyes to our role of mediation….reconciliation….reminding the lost-and-searching for the Father’s love that He stands searching the horizon for their return, for their embrace, for their regenerated fellowship with Him.

And in doing that, we will have carried out our “family responsibility” very well….

*http://www.gospelresearch.org/ProdigalSon.html