I’m a huge fan of the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15. I love how the parable is the capstone of three that talk about seeking and saving the lost. It’s my favorite parable since I first heard it shortly after coming to Christ in the early ‘90’s. It spoke to me. I was enthralled by a God who was willing to go to all lengths to bring His children back to himself. I so connected to the younger son. I hadn’t been the best person—drugs, alcohol, juvy, rebelling against authority—all stereotypes of a person before and after coming to Christ. As I heard the parable, I heard of grace, forgiveness, and acceptance from a God (despite myself).
Over the last decade or so, I’ve been seeing a trend in how the Parable of Prodigal Son is being preached. Instead of talking about the grace, forgiveness, and acceptance of the younger son by the father, sermons have focused on the older brother. I’ve heard pastors talk about how it’s hard as Christians to have our own story. Many Christians grew up in the church, in good Christian homes, have always gone to church, and can’t remember when they actually gave their lives to Christ because they’ve always given their life to Christ. I’ve heard pastors preach about how, just like the older brother, Christians who’ve been in the church the whole time are also welcomed into the party and celebration. In fact, they’ve always been part of the celebration and inheritance.
For these Christians, I guess this is reassuring. I’ve heard how many Christians who have grown up in the church, went to Christian schooling, a Christian college, and now are active members of their church feel a connection to the older brother. Many cite a sermon by a pastor that made the connection for them.
The problem is that focusing on the older brother creates an insular effect. When focusing on the older brother, making the connection between always being part of God’s inheritance and not needing some huge Road-to-Damascus-conversion-story, we no longer focus on the mission we are called to.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son isn’t about the older brother. It isn’t about our own attitude and focus on our own inheritance. We are not to identify with the older brother. We are the younger brother. All of us. All of us were once dead in our sins. All of us were at one time lost. All of us were at one time made alive in Christ. In fact, we are constantly being made alive in Jesus.
But even the younger brother isn’t the focus of this parable. In the trifecta of awesome found in the parables of Luke 15, we see that it is the one seeking the lost that we are to identify with. The shepherd seeks the lost sheep, the woman seeks her lost coin, and the father chases after his lost son. As followers of Christ, we are to pursue the lost. We are to pursue those far from God at all costs.
When we focus on just the older brother, we lose sight of the importance of celebrating those coming to Christ. We are focusing on ourselves instead, focusing on our own life, focusing on a pity party that we aren’t cool enough to be celebrated and so we turn inward. At the same time, as much as we are the younger brother, he isn’t the one we are to associate with. Instead, we are to be like the father and pursue, to run, to go forth. We aren’t supposed to look inward at our own issues but outward with full abandon to welcome in those who are far from God.
So please, stop focusing on the older brother. Instead start focusing on the mission. Please, stop preaching about the older brother and start preaching on joining in the mission of God so that those who were once dead may be alive, that those who were once lost can be found.