Luke 15: 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
I read an interesting article entitled: “Family Fortunate? The Impact of Siblings on Talent Development”, which tracks elite siblings. One statistic shows the impact that siblings have in developing elite athletes. “Research from the ‘United States Soccer Federation’ on its Women’s national teams — from ages 13 to 23, showed that 95% of players have a sibling, the 5% that don’t have a sibling is well below the national average (cited as being 20-25%).” The article profiles elite sporting families such as the Gronkowski brothers (4 professional football players, and 1 pro baseball); and the Ingebrigtsen brothers (all three have now won the 1500m European Championship). Siblings spur each other on to higher levels of performance.
In contrast, in today’s passage Jesus refers to a less positive sibling relationship – a younger and older brother. If you turn in your Bibles to Luke 15, you’ll likely see a title, in the middle of the Chapter, called the “Parable of the Lost Son” or the “Parable of the Prodigal Son”. And to be honest, for most of my life I really thought this parable was all about the younger son. It was simple; he was a sinner, recognized his sin, and his father, received him back, undeservedly, with open arms. I thought it was all about the younger son.
Timothy Keller does an incredible job of turning this interpretation on its head, or at least drastically adding to it, in his study Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything. In Session 2 Heart Three Ways to Live, he makes some excellent points. If you turn to Luke 15: 1-2, you see the context of Jesus’ parable. “1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Immediately after this, Jesus moves to his Parable of the Lost Sheep and then the Parable of the Lost Coin, and finally the Parable of the Lost Son. The context of parables speaks to both the “tax collectors and sinners” as well as the “Pharisees and the teachers of the law”. In fact, it was the latter group who muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” before Jesus responded. So, who do you think these parables are actually about?
Keller makes the reasonable argument that the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15: 11-32) should be called the Parable of the Two Brothers because Jesus addresses both. The younger son demanded his inheritance now which would have required his father to sell part of his land. The younger son didn’t want his father, he wanted his things and thereafter he squandered them. He dishonored his father. Yet the father welcomed him home. But what was the elder brother’s response? In verses 28-30 we see that he dishonored his Father by chastising him for accepting the son back and refusing to go into the banquet.
Keller argues that Jesus redefines sin. Everyone knows that the younger son was a sinner because he was very bad, but Jesus shows that the older son was alienated from the father because he was very good. He too used the father; he felt he was owed something for being good. Keller argues that people try to make the world right through either “self-discovery” (find truth myself, decide myself what is right) or “moral conformity” (be good, work hard). But Jesus says both are wrong. Both are lost. The truth is found in the Gospel. It is by grace we are saved by faith and not works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Which brother are you?