“Clean up the barn” DONE
“Cut the firewood” DONE
“Tend the sheep” DONE
“And… I’ve done my chores for a total of three hundred sixty five days! Wow, it feels so good to be consistent at my responsibilities” said the elder brother to himself.
Then he looked again at his to-do list. His eyes were filled with disdain. There was the feeding of the cows, and the watering of the plants, and the mowing the grass that still needed to be done. But these things were supposed to be taken care of by his younger brother. “Hmm” he said shaking his head, “where could that boy be? It’s been a few months now since he decided to take off… and we’ve heard nothing about him. If he’d been here I wouldn’t have to be so busy with all these chores…”
Then he paused to sigh and said, “But it’s okay. I can manage. I always have. At least I am not the one who has almost ruined our family and ran away to live a questionable life…”
As he was muttering to himself, elder brother caught the sound of the music and dancing going on somewhere. He looked around trying to find where it was coming from. Finally he noticed. It came straight from his house.
“What’s going on?” he asked one of his servants, bewildered.
“What? You don’t know? Your brother is home again. He just came back and your dad is throwing a welcome party for him. Are you coming…?” He couldn’t finish because elder brother started running back to the house.
“Dad, what’s going on here? Are you out of your mind? How could you…” asked elder brother clenching his teeth, fists tight.
“Please son, come in… let’s celebrate that your brother is home, safe and sound…”
“NO!” yelled elder brother in anger. “I won’t come in” “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
Let’s stop the action here for a moment to consider…
The elder brother said “slaving”- it seems that after all, he wasn’t moved by compassion or love towards his father to obey his commands. All this work was wearisome for him, so he only performed. Elder brother was angry at his dad. He thought he should’ve managed things differently with his younger brother. It wasn’t fair. His heart was stone cold, full of self-pity and self-righteousness.
Also he said “celebrate with my friends”- What did the elder brother want to celebrate? He wanted to celebrate his being busy all the time and his being very responsible taking care of his family’s property and working extra hours. With his younger brother long gone, he had to be strong and motivated to do what he ought to do. There was no time for grumbling or sitting around doing nothing. There was a lot to do. And elder brother had done it all. All his to-do lists were checked off. He was a great guy who deserved at least some time hanging out with his friends.
Then why was elder brother so irritated? Because for all this time he had been working to get his father’s things. He never cared for his dad or for the well-being of his brother. He only loved what he could get, and would do anything- including working his head off, to get what he wanted because he would deserve them. His problem wasn’t in the work he did or the amount of it. His problem was in the motivation of his heart- on the why he was doing these things.
Now let’s briefly go back to the story…
And his father said to the elder brother, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”
This was the father’s kind invitation to his eldest greedy self-righteous son, “Will you come in and celebrate with us?”
This is God’s proposal to our self-righteous selves: Will you stop performing as a means of getting things from God? Will you celebrate what by grace has been done for you in the cross? Will you rejoice and find your meaning and purpose in the Giver of all things?