In Luke 15:11-32, Our Lord tells us the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a story which most of you have heard.
Consider, though, the prodigal’s elder brother, who is all bent out of shape because his father killed the fatted calf and threw a party for the son who came home. Most of us can easily understand the elder son’s jealousy, because we are sinners like him: we would probably react as he did.
Because I’ve been reading, all along, Notes on the Parables of Our Lord (first published in 1860) by Dean Richard Chenevix Trench–remember his lesson on the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, which I posted last month–and learning some good lessons from it, I said to myself, “Wait a minute! This is like the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, in which those who worked all day, and were paid handsomely for it, objected because the owner awarded the same payment to those who came late to the job.” And yes, the similarity is there.
To his elder son the father says, “Son, thou art ever with me“–he might have added, “as opposed to the other numbskull, who went out into the fallen world and almost starved to death”–“and all that I have is thine.” The elder son already had “all.” What more could he have asked for?
Dean Trench points out that the elder son, because he was his father’s son, had a perfect right to walk right into the house and join the party, where his portion of the fatted calf was waiting for him. Why didn’t he? One gets the impression that he wanted the whole calf for himself.
He already had all that he could have, and had been spared the experience of leaving his father and winding up in desperate straits. He lost nothing by the father’s forgiveness of the prodigal, and yet he was jealous. In truth, his jealousy and self-righteousness blinded him to the blessings that he had, and to the grace of his father, who was the source of all those blessings. Just as the vineyard owner, out of the goodness of his heart, was generous to the later hires, the father in this parable shed his grace on both his sons. And the one son was jealous and ungrateful.
As Steve Brown would say, “Now you think about that!”