The other day I read an article that talked about the beauty of diversity in the Body of Christ. The author told of sharing the parable of the Prodigal Son with someone from another culture. The listener thought the older brother had not really honored his father (as he claimed) because he should have gone after his wayward sibling to bring him back home.I had never thought about that! As someone who comes from a culture that puts individuals above family, the older brother’s biggest problem was feeling sorry for himself. However, viewed from a more relational culture, it is more far-reaching. And, it shows the older brother’s attitude and behavior to be far more sinful than I had understood.
In a culture where the actions of one family member would likely impact the reputation of the entire family, how could the older brother just sit there? By demanding his inheritance, his kid brother had essentially wished their father dead. An honorable first born son would not tolerate that insult to his father.
And, when the same brother left home, the older one should have gone after him, at least making the attempt to bring him back to the family.
But, this older brother is content to just allow things to unfold. He witnesses the sin, but sits back, perhaps congratulating himself on being rid of the trouble maker. Incredibly self-righteous, the older brother is just as guilty of dishonoring his father as the younger one.
His staying is no less selfish than his brother’s going. Neither brother shows the slightest concern for their father’s pain. Both are wrapped up in what they can get from him.
Imagine how the story might have ended had the older brother done what the listener I read about had said. Worrying more for his father than himself, the older brother sets off, searching for his brother. Months pass, and then…
And then, the father sees in the distance not one, but two sons. The older is carrying his filthy, half-starved brother. The father runs, and together they finish bringing him home.How much more moving and joy-filled would the homecoming party have been? Instead of being sullen and complaining, the older brother joins in the celebration, happy in the knowledge that he has helped save his brother, reunite his family, and restore his father’s honor.
We have an older brother like that. Jesus, the author of this parable, is the older brother as he should have been. To honor His Father, Jesus did not just sit at home, shaking His head at the antics of rebellious mankind. Instead, He left home and entered the brothels and back alleys, the pigsties with their stench, seeking the lost who had turned their backs on the Father.Even more, as the perfect Son, Jesus did not simply come and see us in our desperate state. Instead, He traded places with us, lifting us up from the mud to dwell in it. Taking on the sin and rejection that was our fate, to bring us back to full restoration. In doing so, Jesus upheld His Father’s honor, bringing Him glory through His obedience.
And so, those of us who think of ourselves as ‘older brothers’ need to not just repent of our condescending, holier-than-thou attitudes. Instead, we need to put our Father’s honor above our own and head out to find our lost and wandering siblings.
Perhaps it is someone we know – even an actual, blood relative. But, it may also be a brother or sister we do not yet have, waiting to be rescued and brought to the party... and more importantly, into the family of God.One of the most precious parts of living cross-culturally is gaining new insights on the familiar stories of the Bible. It adds so much richness to my understanding of God. I pray that I will have eyes to see and ears to hear.
And then, that I will get up and go out, seeking those living far from Home. That instead of being an older prodigal, I will live for my Father’s honor, not only rejoicing with Him, but being a part of the redemption that causes the celebration.