The Older Brother
This post is inspired by Erwin McManus’ sermon of 14 December, 2014.
Have you ever felt like you are on the wrong side of a story? Like the things that happen to you should have happened to someone else, or that the things that happened to someone else should have happened to you?
Have you ever watched someone make a terrible decision and been powerless to stop it? Maybe you’ve even tried to stop them; tried to explain how they were making a mistake; tried to alert them to the dangers of what they were doing?
Has it ever seemed like the entire country was devolving into violence, anger and hatred? And despite your loud yelling, obvious logic, and confident propositions no one listened to you?
And let me tell you how I’ve responded: I’ve been critical, angry, and petty. I’ve been despondent, ready to throw in the towel on this whole Christianity thing.
And I’ve been self-righteous.
I’ve been angry at the unjust flourishing enjoyed by those who seem to only care about their own interests and getting their own way–no matter what it costs others. I’ve been livid by what I perceive as self-absorbed piety.
And I’ve been angry at God for allowing the world to be like this.
But it gets worse. I’ve been angry at God because the people who seem to be the worst violators of justice and peace are those who call themselves Christians. And even worse still is that these people who claim to follow Jesus are claimed by Jesus too! They enjoy all the benefits of their privileged position, thinking that all they need to do is acknowledge that it was God who gave them that privilege.
And it makes me angry.
So angry in fact that I don’t want to go to church, listen to a sermon, sing a song, or talk about Jesus. I’ve begun to feel as if the people at church are there celebrating themselves and the good fortune of being them.
In Luke 15 Jesus tells the parable that is commonly called “The Prodigal Son.” I used to think I loved that story, because that’s what good Christians do: they love stories of redemption and hope. But over the years I’ve begun to like it less and less. Not because I stopped loving redemption and hope, but because I started to realize that my identification with this story was not that of the prodigal, but of the the other son.
I am the older son.
I’ve never gone off the rails. I’ve made good decisions. I’ve done good things in my life. But I am critical and judgmental of those who haven’t–let me qualify that– I’ve been critical and judgmental of those who are critical and judgmental. I am what I critique. And I need to change.
Not a change that stops calling to a destructive world, but a change in my own heart. A change of how I feel about my fellow “older brother” types. And a change of how I feel about God.
Because the story in Luke 15 is really about God. It is really about a God who loves even the most disgustingly self-righteous as well as the most disgustingly unrighteous and wants to bring both types home. And I need to celebrate when they, like I, come home.
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