For the past month, every Sunday has hit with me a sense of reality. I have been waiting for this last message, hoping we could skip it over it because it hits a little too close to home. Every day I wake up with the choice to be the older brother from the parable in Luke 15. Most days, if I am being honest, I am the older brother. For real. You see I have a younger brother who has estranged himself from our family. I don’t see him on holidays, I don’t have his number in my phone, I cannot even remember the last time we even talked.
As you can imagine, I have all sorts of feelings going on towards him, but truthfully, most of them come from a raw place of hurt and anger. He has done things and said things that have caused my family a lot of pain, and I while I would love to say that I live in a spirit of forgiveness toward him, I would often be flat-out lying.
But would you like to know the one thing that I cannot fail to remember when I think about our story? It’s my mom. There has not been one day, not one, where she hasn’t wished she could pick up the phone and call him. No season where she wished he were never born, or hated him for the pain he has caused her and those she loves. Instead, she says with consistency that there is enough love here for him, whether or not he ever chooses to come home.
Me, on the other hand, I am the older brother. Hard working and sacrificial for my family. A dedicated daughter, doing whatever might be needed to make life easier for my parents. Present, and persistent in my role as the oldest. The idea that my brother could come home and we would welcome him with open arms makes me angry. He simply does not deserve that. He has literally chosen to separate himself from us. My arms are not waiting for his return. I do not look out the front door anticipating his arrival. I am the older brother. I would have made an excellent Pharisee.
The older brother is not who I want to be, though. I want to be like my mom, like the Father. I want to love unconditionally, and wait with hopeful expectation. I want to wear forgiveness like a shawl and, should I ever get the opportunity, offer to cover him with it. I want to be better than I am because once I was the younger brother. I was in rebellion from God and I am overwhelmed to know that I was welcomed home without regard for my past. Do I deserve that more than him? More than other prodigals? Am I living like I was the only one the Father was waiting for?
While I am busy being the older brother I am missing out on the Father. I am forgetting his love and acceptance of me, I am overlooking the gifts that he is allowing me to be a part of right now. When I am the older brother, I am only looking at myself or at the prodigal, and I am missing the heart of God that patiently waits with bated breath to see a glimpse of us on the horizon, and who leaps off the porch to envelop his weary children with warm acceptance. I miss hearing the Father when he says, “There is no time for your apologies. Come child. Your party is waiting.”
While I am busy counting up my faithfulness and accounting for the glaring lack of effort from others, I miss God being God. But my cast as the older brother is not set in stone. This parable concludes with no real ending. The ending is ours to choose. I have been given a choice and, although it is a process, I desire to set my eyes upon the hands and the face of the Father. I want to rest in his consistent patience and when he jumps up and runs down the lawn, I want to be the first to begin the party planning. I want to join him in saying:
We have to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of ours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.
— Luke 15:32