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Can We Identify with Either the Prodigal Son or His Brother?

Like the father in the parable, the Lord corrects our attitude when we are the older brother and welcomes us back warmly when we are the Prodigal Son. For both, we should be thankful, since we are the recipients of His mercy in either situation.

Contributing Writer
Aug 30, 2021
Can We Identify with Either the Prodigal Son or His Brother?

The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) contains lessons for all of us, no matter which side of the equation we fall on. Some of us have been the prodigal, others have been the brother.

“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).

Most often, we have been in both positions, finding ourselves resentful on the one hand, and finding ourselves failing due to our own stupidity and in need of help and mercy on the other.

Identifying with the Prodigal Son’s Brother

Most of us who have grown up with brothers and sisters can relate to the basics of the story of the Prodigal Son. Who has not been held accountable to a certain standard by their parents, done their best to meet those standards, only to watch the youngest sibling violate that standard flagrantly and not be held accountable at all to it?

We get angry and indignant, and sometimes even resentful of our little brother or sister. We also grow angry with our parents and demand to know why we are held to a standard, which if we failed to meet was met with punishment, while the younger sibling can do almost anything they desire. Such situations can be very frustrating and leave us bitter. I know that when I was a child, the rules I had to live by were very strict.

You had to be in the house before nightfall, you could not leave toys strewn about the yard or house, you had to eat everything on your plate or sit there until you did (which resulted in many evenings spent at the dinner table and then straight to the bath and bed), you had to do your homework before you could watch television, etc.

My younger siblings though they were supposedly under this same set of rules were rarely ever held accountable to them. These sorts of family conflicts are fairly common. That sense of resentment we felt in the face of what appeared to be a double standard is exactly what the older brother of the Prodigal Son was experiencing.

He had done everything his father expected, walking the line, working hard, showing consistent determination and commitment. He was a good son, honoring his parents’ wishes, desires, and likely even their needs.

Meanwhile, his younger brother was selfish, self-centered, and irresponsible. He took off with his inheritance, leaving his brother alone to work hard with their father. He lived a debauched, partying lifestyle and in the end, blew all the cash he had been given.

He deserved to be on the streets, homeless and penniless. So, what does dad do when this little selfish son returns? Does he make him a hired hand, expecting him to earn his wages with hard work like anyone else? Nope.

He cleans the self-entitled son up, gives him new clothes, and throws a party in his favor. The older brother resented this. If we are honest, any of us who have experienced similar situations with our siblings can understand the response of his brother.

Identifying with the Prodigal Son

Others of us can understand what it is to be the Prodigal Son as well. Perhaps in your youth, you took your family for granted. Maybe you fell into the wrong crowd and your attitude gradually began to sour toward them, ending with you treating them poorly. I knew a guy many years ago who was from a wealthy family.

He could have worked in the family business, but he thought his father was too old-fashioned and backward to be really successful. He thought his ideas, which were quite grand, were much better than anything the old man could come up with.

The plan was for each of the brothers to take over a portion of the business when their father retired, but this guy did not want anything to do with the family business. His ideas were superior, after all. So, he asked for cash instead of taking a portion of the business at his father’s retirement.

He then went out and set up his ill-fated business, which within three years had failed spectacularly. Of course, it failed mainly due to his lifestyle. He spent any profit he made quickly, partying, clubbing, running around with a different woman every night.

He bought them cars, jewelry, expensive clothes, and took them to the most high-end clubs and restaurants in town. And then there were the vacations to exotic island paradises with these beautiful women.

When the business began to fail, he borrowed money from a bank, but much of that was also spent to maintain his lavish lifestyle. When all was said and done, the business shut down, the cars were repossessed, he was evicted from his expensive apartment and the beautiful women vanished from his life.

You might not have experienced this level of intensity, but within the means of your life, you have taken advantage of parents, friends, etc., only to have to come crawling back, hat in hand, admitting you made a huge mistake, and asking for forgiveness.

Most of us can say we have been in this position as well. All of us find ourselves at various times in both of these positions before the Lord. Can any of us say we have consistently appreciated the Lord’s blessings, charity, and grace? Not if we are honest.

Like the father in the parable, the Lord corrects our attitude when we are the older brother and welcomes us back warmly when we are the Prodigal Son. For both, we should be thankful, since we are the recipients of His mercy in either situation.

Why Does This Matter?

We should all be mindful of our attitudes, doing our utmost not to be in either of these positions. Instead, we should rejoice when the prodigal son returns to the Father and be willing to place ourselves at the mercy of our Father when we are the prodigal son, understanding that love and mercy are the driving principles behind the entire Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:7; James 2:13; Luke 6:36; 1 Corinthians 13:4-5; 1 Corinthians 16:14).

For further reading:

Who Was the Prodigal Son? The Meaning of This Parable

How Is God a God of Second Chances?

How Does Mercy Triumph Over Judgment?

What Were the Parables of Jesus?

What Must I Do to Hear “Well Done My Good and Faithful Servant?”

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/maurusone

J. Davila-Ashcraft is an Anglican priest, Theologian, and Apologist, and holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from God’s Bible College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a recognized authority on the topic of exorcism, and in that capacity has contributed to and/or appeared on programming for The National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. He is the host of Expedition Truth, a one-hour apologetics radio talk show.

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