The Eldest Son

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 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 15:11-32)

I am the eldest son in my family.

There’s something funny about birth order isn’t there? It seems that the predictable pattern has become that the eldest child is serious and goal-oriented while the youngest child is more social and extroverted. And even though we don’t pass on land or titles to the first born in our society (darn!) we still do take note of birth order—or at least we did this week with the arrival of future king George to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Children and siblings come up a lot in the bible. We start with Cain and Able. We have Joseph and his 12 brothers. Both are good stories, along with a lot of other great family feuds mentioned throughout the Old Testament, but for today, I want to look at the story of The Prodigal Son.

I took part in a Bible Study once where we read the entire story of The Prodigal Son and then discussed the question, “Who are you in the story?”

Well practically speaking, I am the eldest son. I am the driven, goal oriented older child. I am the sometimes overly serious big brother. I color inside the lines. I do what I am ‘supposed’ to do.

There is no doubt in my mind that parenting has to be one of the hardest jobs in the world. While you can divorce a spouse, dismiss a sibling, forget a friend, etc….there is no way to ever stop being a parent to your child. And yet the story of The Prodigal Son gives us a remarkable glimpse of family.

The prodigal son thinks he knows what he wants...his parents love him enough to set him free and let him find his own way…he discovers that life can be hard—in fact, it sometimes sucks—and he needs a new plan…swallowing his pride, he returns home out of desperation…his father unequivocally—forgetting all past hurt—forgives him and immediately starts moving forward…the eldest son feels jealous, but the father explains that different children have to be raised differently.

I think in reality, despite getting the story named after him, the Prodigal son is the most boring part of this plot.

In the beginning of the story, we have two parents who are able to let go of their own desires to give their son the freedom he thinks he needs. As a parent, that has to be both terrifying and heartbreaking. There is nothing harder that letting go of your expectations for your future; yet they do it to let their son try and find his own way.

When the son returns, the father is able to dismiss his own pain to help heal his family. There is no “let’s talk about what happened.” The score is forgotten and past transgressions immediately forgiven. The dad here is an incredible hero who gives up his hurt so that rebuilding can begin.

The eldest brother—while mentioned only briefly—proves that everyone is broken. We see in his part of the story that just because someone holds it together doesn’t mean they don’t have their own pains. We see that everyone needs approval and no one is free from the fear of being unlovable.

We all have the tendency to be a bit “prodigal.” But we all have a loving father who forgives, forgets, and brings right back into the family. Our pains, our vices, and our fears do not matter…for those who are dead, will live again…those who are lost, will be found.

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