The story of the Prodigal Son is the most beautiful of all Jesus’ stories.
It’s a familiar story because we know it well and because it is the story of many families. It’s not the story line that surprises me, however, but the outcome. How many fathers would receive back a wayward son without reproach? How many fathers would treat that son like royalty even though he still smelt like the pig pen?
There’s another line in the story that catches my attention because it is an all-too-familiar scene that plays out in human families and in the family of God. Have you noticed the contrast between the attitudes of the younger and the older son? Jesus could have ended His story with the celebration in honour of the son’s return, but He didn’t. From a literary point of view the story has a rather weak ending but Jesus wasn’t interested in literature. He was interested in true life. He tells us the sequel.
The younger son was a rebel and a bad boy, but he came home with these words on his lips, “Father, I have sinned.” He owned his bad behaviour and repented before God and his father. He didn’t blame his parents or his circumstances for his choices. He acknowledged his guilt and was pardoned and restored to his family.
The words on the lips of the older brother reveal the attitude of his heart. The younger brother said, “I have sinned.” With scathing contempt the older brother pointed his finger at his younger brother and said, “You have sinned.” How many older brothers are there who point the finger at others and say, “You have sinned.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes this point very clear. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1,2.
Who was set free from guilt in this story? Certainly not the older brother. He held on to his guilt of hypocrisy and pride while the “sinner” was forgiven.
What about you? Have you forgiven and released from your judgment every person who has offended you? Jesus made it clear that, if you do not, you will not be forgiven.