When family problems hit home for us, one of the natural responses is to get angry at the person whom we feel is the cause of the problem. In looking at the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 the anger demonstrated by the older brother can cause us to step back and say, “Well I would never be like that.” But his reaction is pretty normal for a family in pain. Think about the whole thing from the standpoint of an older or younger brother. You’ve been part of a family in which it seems to you that your brother has always had some kind of drama going on. Every thing you plan as a family seems to be somehow undermined by that brother. They either get into some kind of trouble or they are making a big deal out of something. Sometimes it just seems that the family would be much more at peace if that brother weren’t there at all.
One day, your thought becomes a reality. The brother in frustration or in pure sin packs his bags and moves out, going to find himself or do his own thing. You look at your father or at both parents and see the hurt in their heart and think to yourself “he isn’t worth all that hurt. He has been causing them pain from the beginning. Surely they will get over this soon and realize the family is better off with that son gone.”
The extended time while the brother is gone moves by quickly. There has been a calm in the family since he has been gone. But you still see your dad often standing on the front porch looking out into the distance and you know what he is thinking. You just know he is looking for that brother to come over the horizon. You wonder why it still hurts your parents so much. None in the familyhas heard a thing from him since he left. There have been a few rumors that ran through town, but you don’t know if any of it is true. He sure hasn’t called on you at any time.
If all you did was look into the empty hearts and sad faces of your parents you would feel some anger toward your brother for all the pain he was causing them. You might even feel like he was stealing your parents from you because they were getting old right before your eyes as they worry about him. Your anger grows.
Then one day the very thing you have feared the most happened. One day whcn your dad was looking over the horizon hoping to see his son headed home, he does see him. He is ragged and torn and probably no one else in the whole town would recognize him as the boy that had left . He sure doesn’t look the same as the privileged son of a well to do family now. But the amazing thing is your dad’s reaction when he sees his prodigal son a long way in the distance. He takes off running to meet his boy. Why would he do that? This son has been selfish, lazy and his whole value system has been turned upside down. Why didn’t your father react the way others have? Many would have stood on that porch to watch as their son walked each hot, dusty step. When he got close they would have stood there like a statue waiting for the younger son to come and apologize to them for all the hurt they had caused. But that wasn’t the case with this father. This father had the attitude he had been sick and was now well again. He had been lost, alone and stiff to the whole world. But the father cares for none of that he isn’t even concerned with what people will say and whether or not they will think he has done the right thing. He runs every step to meet his son. When the son tries to start his speech, “I’ve sinned against heaven and before you. I’m no longer deserve to be called your son. Make me one of your hired servants.” But the father isn’t looking for more servants. He is intested in a son.
I love the fact he didn’t even respond to the boys’ request. Instead he turned to the servants standing by saying and started giving quick commands. “Go get the best robe we have and bring it here for my son. Get shoes for his feet and a ring for his finger. Go take that fattened calf and slaughter it so we can have a party for my son was lost and he is found, he was dead and is alive again.”
The best robe in the house was the one that belonged to the father. He was telling him to get his robes, his dress clothing and bring it for his son. A ring signified his belonging in the family. When we wear a class ring it tells the world that we belong. We are part of the accepted group. A ring from a family meant you are a son, a prized son, not a servant. The shoes were indication of privilege. Perhaps most important was the fattened calf. This would likely have been a lamb that was being kept in a stable, fed all the right things and would be slain in just the right time for some celebration such as a wedding or some banquet to honor someone close to the family. The father said to go kill that calf they had been saving and kill it, cook it, get it ready and let’s have a banquet. His son had been lost and was now found. He had been dead and was alive again.
When the older brother came home, he first heard the music and dancing and couldn’t believe his ears. What in the world is happening? What is there to celebrate in this house. When he didn’t rush in to be part of the party it tells us that his anger had gotten hold of him around his neck. He called a servant to find out what was happening. He said, “Your brother has come home. Your dad has given him the best robe, shoes, a ring and killed the fattened calf for the celebration.
The anger in the older brother begins to build. He refused to go into the house where this prodigal brother is. The father came out to this son also to plead with him to come into the banquet and show his love for his brother. He not only wouldn’t go inside to be with his brother, he wouldn’t go inside to be with his dad. He was angry at the grace and mercy demonstrated by the dad. “All these years I’ve been serving you and I never transgressed any of your laws. But not one time did you ever even give me a young goat to rejoice with my friends. There is a huge difference between a young goat and a fattened calf. The goat is lesser meat. Yet you feel so slighted that you didn’t even get a goat. The father tells him something extremely important. “Son, all that I have is yours. It was right for me to rejoice when your brother came home since he had been dead and is now alive. He had been lost and is now found.”
Anger isn’t always found in older brothers. It can just as easily come from the heart of the dad or the mom or a sister as it can come from the older brother. In this story the prodigal represents all those tax collectors and sinners that Jesus had been talking to about salvation. The father is God and the older brother is the Jews, especially the Jewish leaders who wanted to kill Jesus the son of God.
Look at what happens when you allow anger to rule your heart. It causes you to not see all the wonderful blessings that have been poured out on you. When the younger son received his inheritance he would have received one third of the father’s goods. The old brother would have received the other two thirds of what the father owned. So when the dad said, “Son, all that I have is yours” he was telling it as it is. It caused him to focus on some small nitpicking differences. His brother gets the fattened calf. He didn’t even get a goat. Anger exaggerates our good qualities. “All these years I served you and I never transgressed any of your laws.” He was willing to lie to himself before he lied to his father. Anger causes us to judge others harshly. He said this son of yours has wasted all you had with harlots. Did he know that to be true or is it just the fact it is what he would have done?
Jesus knew there were sins everywhere in the world and that all people ought to feel compassion and concern for the lost to bring them to Jesus. He wanted deeply for us to learn the lesson that to be like him we must open the doors into the church for those who have lived on the outside for years.
What are we to do if we feel anger growing down deep within us? First, we must never become so self centered that we are ready to allow the kingdom to fail to grow if we can just turn our anger loose and allow it to fly away. The words of Paul are still very powerful and healthy commands, “Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath.” Work on filling your heart with compassion instead of anger. It isn’t as though all the sinners were in the house and nothing bad could be seen outside. Admit your own failings and ask God to help you overcome anger in your life. “The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.”