Someone once asked the great American story teller, Mark Twain, who he thought was the best storyteller who ever lived. He answered, ‘Jesus Christ’. “What was the greatest story Jesus told?”. He replied, “The story of the ‘Prodigal Son’”.

For centuries, that is the name given to Jesus’ story in Luke 15:11-31 but it is not entirely accurate. It is actually a tale of two brothers (verse 11) estranged from their father as Jesus was speaking to two groups of people (verse 2). The younger brother represents the tax collectors and sinners, while the elder brother corresponds to the Pharisees, the moral and religious. They both depict ‘two ways to be your own Savior and Lord…One is by breaking all the moral laws and setting your own course, and one is by keeping all the moral laws and being very, very good’ (Keller). 

Unfortunately, most sermons focus on the younger brother and his reconciliation with his father. It makes for a great evangelistic message, however, sinners were not the primary focus of Jesus’s message in the parable but the Pharisees who were just as lost and alienated from God because of their self-righteousness and moral superiority. They were as much in need of God’s grace as the morally inferior sinners they frowned upon.

One of the biggest dangers we face as we endeavour to live a life of consecration to God is that we are prone to become ‘elder brothers’ in the process. I am sure you know of ‘younger brothers’ who’ve made their way ‘home’, only to be tragically greeted by legalistic ‘elder brothers’ at the door. Keller makes this uncomfortable but powerful observation.

He writes, “Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralist people. The licentious and liberated for the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think” (Keller).

In examining our hearts, if we see the ‘elder brother’ in us, let’s return with the Spirit’s enabling, to the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ that we’ve wandered from.

Coram Deo,

Mark