Jesus once told a story about a father who had two sons. The first son, in a pretty heartless move, decided that he was tired of waiting around for his father to die and demanded that his father give him his half of the inheritance in cash. He promptly packed up, left town, and spent it all lavishly and recklessly.
The second son did what sons are supposed to do- he stayed. He responsibly helped his father manage the property. Day in and day out. Never asking for anything. Never questioning.
On the surface, it seems pretty simple to label the two.
Good son/Bad Son. Faithful/Faithless. Mr. Darcy/George Wickham. Honor Student/Disappointment.
I have to confess that sometimes when I read the story of the prodigal son, I find myself relating to the son who stayed home more than the prodigal wanderer. I don’t think I would have it in me to demand anything like that. Or I would at least have set up a savings account.
But then the tricky question of grace comes into the story. Was one brother truly more in need of grace than the other?
The second son stayed. But maybe he went to the field each morning with a terrible attitude. Maybe in his heart he lusted for the same pleasures that his brother did, but his pride alone kept him from chasing them.
And when his prodigal brother comes home, destitute and humbled, the “good” son gives plenty of proof of his own need for grace.
Their father, the paragon of scandalous grace and mercy, greets his shamed son with a hug and throws an all out party. “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.'” (Luke 15:24)
But the second son, hearing the music from the field, can’t hide his contempt.
“He was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’” (Luke 15: 28-30 ESV)
At the end of the day, the brother missed out on a spectacular party. His self-righteousness made him unable to experience the joy of a lost soul returned to community.
The truth is, we can’t always look at a person and know that they need grace. One brother flaunted his sins in the face of everyone he knew. The other brother hoarded his sins of superiority and jealousy in his heart- to the extent that he was unable to rejoice in the fact that his brother who had been assumed dead was on his doorstep.
But the father shows us God’s love and mercy, not only by welcoming back the rebel, but by his insistance that his hard-hearted and judgmental son join in his celebration.
Because we all need Grace. Whether for sins openly committed or for the envy, discontent, and vanity that we store up in our hearts while sitting at home browsing through facebook, we need to be loved by a Father who entreats us to come celebrate.
And I am so thankful that He doesn’t leave me sulking in the field.