Finding God's Winning Spirit

Elder vs. Prodigal

June 27, 2014 | Greg Smith | Focus


It is in the 15th chapter of Luke that we find the parable of The Prodigal Son. Many theologians say that the 15th chapter of Luke is one of the most important and popular chapters in the Bible. This is probably due to the popularity of its three parables (The Lost Coin, The Lost Sheep, and The Lost Son). In all three of these parables we have the nutshell of the Gospel. They are all about falling away and returning, being lost and then being found.

Of the three parables, The Prodigal Son is probably the most familiar and/or popular. I bring this up because Sunday morning I found myself in church once again listening to the plight of the ungrateful, selfish, foolish, sinful and eventually remorseful prodigal. Most theologians would agree that this is the primary interpretation and/or preaching point for this passage but I have always been intrigued by the behavior of the elder brother.

I believe that to really learn all we can from this parable we need to view the prodigal’s story in comparison to the elder brother’s position.  In Luke 15:12 we read, “The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.” Depending on which sermon you have heard, this statement by the prodigal has been deemed selfish, entitled or greedy. I'm not sure that that is completely fair.

Although this may not have been a mature decision on the young boy’s part it was a legitimate request and certainly bold. Simply put, half of the estate was his and he had the right, and moreover, the confidence to claim it (I bet if the Prodigal had prematurely taken his inheritance and invested it wisely this story never makes the Bible). 

What does it take for us to ask for what is ours? (Jacob stole his inheritance yet historically has not taken the beating the prodigal son has). What kind of relationship did the younger son have with the father to even ask such a question? What kind of self-esteem and/or confidence must a person have to ask, receive and strike out on their own? The answers to these questions are: Feeling loved – good – strong. The kingdom of God would probably be the larger if more of us acted on self-confidence rather than caution. My point here is the problem was not necessarily in the asking – just in the squandering.

It is no surprise that this naïve, immature and ill-prepared youth succumbed to the world with all its temptations. His desires of the flesh coupled with Satan’s leadership set him on a path of destruction.  I for one do not believe that this is the surprising or important part of the parable.  It is what the boy does when he realizes where he is and what he has done that counts. The real message of the prodigal is in the returning not just the falling away. Real revelation usually involves both. 

All ends well for the younger son – not the case for the elder.


 I have heard many sermons concerning this parable without mention of the elder son. In my opinion this is an injustice to the parable. In verses 25-31 we are told about the reaction and character of the oldest son. The eldest is angry, jealous and bitter. He, unlike his younger brother, has no sense of inheritance or the father's love. He toils and works for approval instead of feeling/understanding the unconditional love and grace of the father.

For the elder there is no transformation here, no self-awareness of the empty toil-bearing life to earn something that has already been given. There is no ability to love others due to the his lack of feeling loved, no sense of joy due to feeling oppressed and no appreciation of what he has because he has never lost it. The “good son” is a barren and miserable son and does not even know it. 

One son has learned who God is (the father) because he has engaged him out of love and faith, and yes, even sin. One son does not know God because he is consumed by bitterness and fear. 

Which one would you rather sit next to in church?    

Good perspective!
Posted by Howard Porter on
Leave a Reply

(Your email will not be publicly displayed.)