Without a doubt, one of Jesus’ greatest parables (or at least most well-known) would be the one found in Luke 15 about the Prodigal Son. We love putting ourselves in the shoes of the one that departed and has found their way home after a long and soul-sucking sojourn, only to have the father that we refused receive us with open arms. Grace is found only in the abode of our Father, and is available us whenever we get homesick.

What we don’t enjoy so much is putting ourselves in the position of the second son, the one who initially did the right thing in staying home to work his Father’s field, but revolted whenever he saw any form of grace and love extended to his good-for-nothing prodigal brother. His bitterness that was revealed in the conversation with his father is deplorable, and we rightfully esteem him as a selfish brat – ironically, the same position that his brother once occupied.

But what was he really saying to his father? We know the words that were recorded for us in Luke 15:29-30 – “you have never given me a kid, that I might be merry with my friends; but when this son of yours came…you killed the fattened calf for him” – but what did he really mean in regards to his brother? Below are a couple options.

He shouldn’t be forgiven until he earned it

Forgiveness is a popular thing we like other people to earn while graveling at our feet, which is interesting because we sing so often about the “free gift of grace” that comes when we ask God for forgiveness. God doesn’t ask us to “earn” our forgiveness (although repentance is absolutely 100% necessary), and so it would be unloving of us to require it of others. That was certainly the attitude of the ungrateful servant who demanded the man who owed him a few months payment be thrown in prison immediately after he had himself been forgiven of several billion dollars (Matthew 18). By the way, that passage we just referred to in Matthew 18? It comes right on the heels of Peter’s question of: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?” Coincidence? I think not.

Even if he is forgiven, it won’t be the same

Since he had already demanded it, the younger son wouldn’t have been (technically) allotted any inheritance after his father passed anyways, but the older brother probably wanted to take away his standing within the house as a son as well. Even if he was forgiven (technically), the memories of what he had done would always tarnish at least the older brother’s reputation of him, and possibly even that amongst the servants. They would all treat him with an air of suspicion based on his past.

The problem with that was that (a) he was still his brother, and (b) that’s not forgiveness. If God forgave us the same way we sometimes forgive each other (i.e. forgive but not forget), God would be a reluctant Savior that is waiting for us to “pull one over” on Him again! Rather, God forgives us fully when we repent and ask for forgiveness, every time, and if we aren’t willing to do that with our brothers, what kind of Christ-like “Christian” are we really? (James 2:13; 1 John 4:10). You could probably write a dozen more options yourself, but I think the point has been made. The fact is, when we begin to insert ourselves into the pharisaical positions of Jesus’ parables, we find that we have more in common than we thought. Consciously or subconsciously, we can all find ourselves saying this about something that has wronged us or God, and it takes humility on our part to accept someone back as well.

Last modified: January 23, 2019