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Being a Sibling – Introduction
The sibling relationship is unique. The Bible is replete with stories of siblings, but no overt commands in Scripture govern the physical sibling relationship. I suppose in the landscape of our various familial relationships, the sibling relationship is perhaps the most taken for granted because, in general, our siblings are always around. Yet, the sibling relationship serves as the basis and model for our lives together as we relate to God in Christian community. So let’s look together at the sibling relationship in the story of the prodigal son.
The Prodigal Son
We examined the Prodigal and his brother yesterday. But here we want to pay particular attention to the brothers’ different views of the father. This provides insight into how we approach our own parents and siblings, as well as how we approach God. If you need a refresher, go to Luke 15:11–32 and read through the story again.
First, let’s consider the Prodigal. He does not necessarily have a problem with the father. He is just selfish. So selfish, in fact, that he demands his inheritance from the father. Myriads of writings show how appalling that would be, like a slap in the face. However, when you think of the contrast that Jesus is painting in this story, it makes sense. This son is so blinded by his own selfish desires that he takes whatever he can get. When he finally acknowledges his faults, Scripture says that “he came to himself” (Luke 15:17). He is an out-of-control child, who wants to try life on his own. He does, and it leaves him empty (literally).
Contrast this with his older brother, who is faithful. He served the father dutifully for “many years.” He “never disobeyed” the father’s command (v. 29). Nonetheless, he is angry with his father’s decision, and this anger manifests itself in contempt. He is blinded by pride, and he speaks to his father as if he is educating him:
“Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” (vv. 29–30)
He is appealing to his father’s justice, but his father has seen fit to show grace. Thus, we have the classic contrast between justice and grace. It is almost as if Jesus put in story form the interaction that the disciples witnessed between the Pharisees and Mary just eight chapters earlier:
One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:36–47)
In this interaction, the Pharisee sits in judgment over the actions of Jesus, while the woman throws herself at his feet and begs for mercy. She loves much. This is almost the exact same interaction that the two sons have, is it not? One sits in judgment over his own father, thinking he knows better. The other has hit rock bottom and can only throw himself at the feet of the father.
It is as if Jesus has been building up to this story throughout the book of Luke because, just two chapters prior to the incident with the woman and the Pharisee, the Pharisees ask Him why he eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus reminds them that “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31–32).
I recognize myself in the older brother. So here are two confessions of an older brother. First, he will never allow himself to hit rock bottom like the younger brother does. He is too prideful. Second, he will always doubt the motives of the younger brother. He will wonder if it’s all a plan just to get back into the father’s good graces (i.e., Is he really repentant, or did he plan this whole thing?). His heart is full of doubt and anger (Luke 15:28). Notice, too, with whom the older brother is angry. He is not angry with the younger brother; he is angry with the father. The target of his anger is the very one who is pleased with him and with his dutiful devotion. The older brother so respects the ideals he learned from the father that he forgets to respect the father!
The brothers experience different sides of the father, and this is why we need one another as siblings. We remind one another of the fullness of the Father.
Being a Sibling – Conclusion
To those who identify with the younger brother, the Father invites you into a life of joyful service. He accepts your repentance and embraces you as His child (and not a servant). Yet, the household work still must be done.
To those who identify with the older brother, the Father invites you into a life of grace and generosity. He reminds you that everything that remains is yours. And he begs you to forgive and live generously with your repentant brothers and sisters.
The younger brother represents joy. The older brother represents service. What we need is a brother who can lead the way to joyful service: one who knows when to remind the older brothers among us to show grace and generosity (the pathway to joy from dutiful service), and one who can embrace the younger brothers among us after they have sinned (the pathway back to dutiful service from misplaced joy).
We need Christ!
Adapted from The Relational God