" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' " Luke 15:31-32
What a sad ending to an otherwise great story.
When you say, "Psalm. People think 23rd Psalm."
When you say, "Parable. People think Prodigal Son."
It is one of the most popular, well-known and best loved parables that Jesus ever told. But it deserved a better ending. The finale should have been the party for the Prodigal, but instead, it focuses on the party pooper, a.k.a., the elder brother.
Why did it end that way? Why didn't this older son enjoy the party with his father and his brother? Everyone loves a party, don't they?
Well, let's review his complaints:
"You have never had even a small party for me and I have faithfully served you for all these years."
Am I sensing a little resentment here? Was it justified? Did he have a valid complaint?
Well, let's think about it. Should you expect a party for doing what you are supposed to do? Serving the father was his job. Do you get a party for doing your job? I don't think so. For doing your job you get to keep your job and you get to make a living. This son had a nice living. He had access to everything that his father possessed. He had a comfortable home, he had the love of a family, and he stood to inherit all that his father had.
Don't you think the father would have thrown a party for this son anytime the son would have asked? He never asked for a party.
If you ask me, I think this young man had an attitude problem.
"But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes come home, you kill the fatted calf for him."
Should the father not be excited about the return of his son? What was this older son thinking? Shouldn't he have been happy to see his brother return safely? Shouldn't he have at least acted happy out respect for his father?
When I look at this older brother I see some deadly attitudes that take the joy out of life.
There was an attitude of entitlement. "I have done these things so I deserve this thing." Apparently he wasn't serving the father because it was right, he was doing it for the reward.
There was an attitude of self-righteousness. "I am more deserving because I have done the right things." Sure, his actions were good but his attitudes were all wrong.
There was an attitude of envy. He thought he should have been getting the party instead of his brother. He saw himself as more deserving that his younger brother.
So, who lost out because of these bad attitudes? Not the younger brother, he got the party. Not the father, he went to the party, too. It was the older brother who missed out because of his lousy attitudes. He allowed his negative attitudes rob him of the joy of the celebration.
Bad attitudes usually lead to an unhappy ending. It is unfortunate when it happens in an otherwise positive parable. But it is tragic when it happens in real life.
Unfortunately, I have seen these attitudes steal the joy from Christians and from churches. And then they wonder why there is no joy in their life or in their fellowship. They look resentfully at other churches that have the joy.
Joy is the attitude of celebration. Celebration in the church is centered around lost sinners who come home. Giving into feelings of entitlement, self-righteousness, and envy, will crush the spirit of celebration everytime.
Please learn from the party pooper in this parable. Ask God to search your heart for any attitude that will rob you of your joy and keep you from the party.