I’ve been thinking a lot on jealousy. I considered the story of the prodigal son. I kept thinking of the older brother and how jealous and angry he was when his long lost brother came home. I went into study asking myself, “How could he not be jealous?” – even that he had every right to be angry. I came out humbled by what I found.
In Luke 15:11-32 we find two brothers and one father. One brother is described as younger. It seems that, as most younger siblings, this man was much more immature than his elder brother. His sin was evidenced in foolishness, irresponsibility, recklessness, carelessness, and selfishness.
At first glance, the older brother seems righteous – even righteously indignant. He is hardworking, diligent, trustworthy, and responsible in doing his father’s work. Little wonder why he was angry and jealous when his wayward brother gets a robe, a ring, new shoes, and a grand celebration upon his return from licentiousness.
I began to examine just why he was angry and jealous, though.
The text reveals that the elder brother believed that he had never disobeyed his father. He was angry because he believed that he deserved more – much more than his foolishly disobedient brother. He believed that his work was meritorious. He believed that he was earning favor by working worthy. Little bro certainly hadn’t done anything like that so how could he possibly be shown such favor?
When he discovers the celebration, the older brother refuses to participate. He begins to mull over what the incentive of obedience is if disobedience followed by repentance produces even more grace from his father. How could he not be jealous, right? Wrong.
As I studied this passage, the Lord revealed to me that the brothers are not different, but the same. One is not good and one bad. One is not obedient and the other disobedient. One is not sinful and the other righteous. No. They are the same. The elder brother simply has a different set of besetting sins.
Where the younger is foolish, careless, irresponsible, and reckless, the elder is prideful, self-righteous, arrogant, and jealous. Both are selfish. Both are equally sinful. The only difference is which sins they are guilty of and how they display them. Both hearts are desperately wicked.
Note, the younger is blatant and overt in his failings. Everyone knows when he messes up because it is obvious. The elder, however, has hidden sin. He is able to hide well the hate in his heart because his external actions are squeaky clean.
I just went from searching for reasons to justify my jealousy to asking myself which kind of sinner I am acting more like this time.
The elder brother counted worldly living as something to be envied – just like his sinful brother did – when he expressed a desire to have a goat with his friends rather than the fattened calf with his newly restored family. The elder dismissed his apparent, long standing blessings – just like the younger did – when he stood accusing his father for never giving him anything special or significant.
These boys are the same! Both are equally sinful! And the faithful father meets both of them with extravagant grace. He runs to meet the one and he comes out from his feast to meet the other. He shows neither anger nor impatience to either one. There is nothing but grace for both the overt and the covert sinners. And both desperately need it.
The self-righteous sinners who hide their sin through external good works love to hate the reckless sinners who are blatant in their failure. The reckless sinners who are blatant in their failure love to hate the self-righteous sinners who hide their sin through external good works. How foolish! We are merely two sides of one coin. We are siblings with a common father. We are the same.
Therefore, this parable is not about a sinner and a saint any more than it is about the man in the moon. This is about two different kinds of sinners who the father is transforming into saints. The hide and pretend sinner and the out and about sinners. We may identify with one over the other but, if we’re honest, most of us swing back and forth between the two like a pendulum throughout life.
Still, the father runs to us with arms wide open. He comes out mercifully to meet us. He gives. He forgives. He restores with his words of assurance, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” ~Luke 15:31
That, friends, is the most amazing kind of grace.