The older son

…that son of yours…
Luke 15:20

The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32), more aptly called the merciful and welcoming father, has a third character, the older son.

He is resentful that his father welcomed his younger brother whom he calls “that son of yours,” hardly recognizing him as a brother.

But what has struck me is that he claims that his brother wasted his inheritance on prostitutes. How does he know that?

His brother has been back for probably less than an hour. The parable only says that he wasted his inheritance recklessly, immorally, dissolutely. But the adverb used could mean a lot of things.

Why does the older brother claim that he wasted his money on prostitutes? We don’t know but, this being a parable, I think we can imagine that perhaps the older son was envious. Perhaps the older son, out of duty or fear, had wanted to consort with prostitutes but didn’t dare – in fear of what his father might think of him, fearful that his father might disinherit him.

And so the older son might have accused his brother of what he really wanted to do.

Of course, this is pure conjecture about a parable (which never really happened). But I think it reveals something about who we are.

Sometimes we are like the prodigal son and waste our fortune in a dissolute life, in whatever way “pleases” us. Sometimes we are like the older son who appears to be faithful but really is just afraid of getting caught.

But we really should learn from and imitate the father – rich in mercy, full of love. He not only welcomed the lost son but ran out to greet him when he saw him from afar. Perhaps he was looking down the road every day hoping to see his lost son.

That’s how God is – and how we are called to live as children of God, in love and not in fear, welcoming all.



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