October 26, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 15:25-30 (NRSV)
Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!”
The parable of Jesus known as The Prodigal Son features a younger son who turns from his life of wasteful extravagance and is welcomed home by his gracious father. But the younger son isn’t the only lost son in this story. The older son, mired in his anger and resentment, is also lost in a way. Sometimes those of us who are “good” and “religious” can be as lost as those upon whom we look down. We need to be found just as much as the “younger brothers” in our lives.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
In a recent devotion, I suggested that the parable we know as The Prodigal Son might better be called The Lost Son. This fits with the theme of Luke 15 (lost sheep, lost coin, lost son) and is consistent with Jesus’s own language (15:24, 32). But a strong case could be made, I believe, for naming this parable The Lost Sons (plural).
In the previous parables of Luke 15, the action ends with celebration because something valuable has been found (sheep, coin). The final parable in this chapter, however, continues beyond the celebration of the younger son’s return. Jesus introduces the character of the “elder son” (Luke 15:25). He had been working in the field, faithfully discharging his duty as a son, when he heard “music and dancing” coming from the family house. When he learned that his father threw a party to welcome home his younger brother, the elder son became angry. After all, he had been the obedient one who honored his father. He had worked hard for years. Yet he was never the recipient of a party like the one celebrating the return of his disobedient, wasteful, immoral brother. So the elder brother refused to join his brother’s welcome home party, choosing instead to stew in his own angry juices.
I confess that I can relate to the elder brother in this story, not in all details, but using my imagination. I was, all in all, a fairly decent and loyal son. I made plenty of mistakes in my life, but never openly dishonored my parents. The same is true for my siblings, by the way. But I can imagine what it would have been like for me if one of them had gone off the rails and then my parents had celebrated their restoration with a much bigger party than anything I had ever enjoyed. It’s not hard for me to conceive of how I would have felt. Resentment and anger might well have filled my heart.
In this sense, I would have been “lost” in the way of the elder brother. I would have lost out on a grand party. I would have lost touch with my father and his heart. I would have lost the joy that can come when someone truly repents. Though my lostness would differ from that of the younger son, I would have been lost nonetheless.
It’s pretty easy for those of us who try hard to be faithful to get lost in this way. We can get caught in self-righteousness and judgmentalism. We can fail to rejoice when people turn from sin to God because we’re obsessed with their sin. We can be upset when people don’t worship as we do, failing to love the fact that their worship is authentic to their lives and cultures.
If you don’t relate to this kind of lostness, that’s great. But if it feels even vaguely familiar, then you need to be found by your Heavenly Father. You need a fresh experience of God’s prodigal grace. We’ll talk about this more tomorrow. For now, you may want to reflect on the following questions.
Can you relate to the elder brother in this parable? If so, in what ways?
Why do you think the elder brother was unable to join in the celebration of his younger brother’s return?
Can you think of a time when God softened your heart toward someone whose sins really bothered you?
What helps you to be able to celebrate the “finding” of those who were lost?
Set aside some time to prayerfully consider ways in which you might be like the older son in this parable.
Lord Jesus, yet again I thank you for telling this wonderful story. It touches my heart in so many different ways.
As you know, Lord, there is a bit of the elder brother in me. I try so hard to be good, at least most of the time. I can let the sins of others bug me, so that I have a hard time rejoicing when they return to you. I can lose touch with your heart for the lost, experiencing a kind of lostness myself. Forgive me, Lord. Find me!
Help me, I pray, to share your celebration when the lost are found . . . even when I am the lost one you have found. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: Do You Suffer With Older Brother Syndrome?
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.