Most every Christian (and many non-Christians) are familiar with the story of the prodigal son. A father has two sons and plans to leave a sizable inheritance to both upon of them upon his death. The younger son, being impulsive and impatient, demands he get his inheritance now while he is still young enough to enjoy it, and he promptly heads out into the world to live the “wild life,” blowing through every penny until he is left poor and homeless, living in a literal pig pen. At the lowest point of his life, he realizes that even his father’s servants live better than he does – at least they are fed and given shelter! He swallows his pride and heads back home, intending to ask his dad simply to have a job as one of his servants after all he’d done. His dad, however, sees him coming home, and immediately orders a feast and celebration, declaring, “My son was dead, but now he is alive! He has come home!” It’s a parable that is very well known.
But what about the firstborn son? Where does he fit into this story? Jesus tells of how the firstborn son was confused, and even bitter towards his father’s reaction when his younger brother returned home. Here he was, a loyal and faithful son, working for his father and earning his share of the inheritance. He never squandered his money, and he definitely was more deserving of a party than his brother was. And yet it was his brother who got the celebration after doing the exact opposite! The firstborn son was so angry that he refused to even come to the party. When his dad asked him what the problem was, he responded by asking, “Why does HE get a celebration?! I’ve stayed loyal, I’ve done your bidding, and I haven’t even gotten a young goat to share with my friends. That brat comes home after blowing everything, and you gave him the biggest steak we have!”
On the surface, it makes perfect sense why the elder son would be upset. I mean, he has a point. He never led the wild life. He was always at his father’s side, doing what was asked of him. And yet he never was given any sort of celebration. And in reality, it probably was never even expected. I mean, if you do what’s asked of you, why do you even need a celebration? It’s just part of life! But when your brother takes half of the family’s money and blows it, coming back home smelling like a pig pen and begging forgiveness, why should HE get a feast?! He got what he deserves!
How many of us are “firstborn Christians”? How many of us were raised in the church, or are long-time church members who show up every Sunday, volunteer for events, pay tithes, and play a large part in our church? Don’t we deserve to be celebrated? I mean, it’s because of US that there’s even a church here, right? If we didn’t show up every week, there wouldn’t be a place for prodigals to come. That’s why WE are the ones who matter here, not those losers who keep screwing up.
Or is it????
As the prodigal’s father explained, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” The firstborn was already guaranteed everything the father had because of his loyalty. Why did he need his father to give him a young goat (or anything, really), when he already had everything he needed? And aside from that, why couldn’t the firstborn be happy that his brother, whom he hadn’t seen in a long time, had returned home?
Why can’t we as Christians, especially “firstborn Christians,” celebrate when sinners are found instead of complaining about how “our needs are not being met.” God has already met everyone one of our needs, and will continue to do so. So put away your griping and let’s welcome the lost, for they now are found.