How undignified that a father would run to embrace a shameful son who’d disrespected both him and the firstborn and brought shame on the family. As if that weren’t enough, he clothed him with the best robe and gave him the family’s chequebook: the signet ring. This father had no sense of dignity, calling the neighbours to witness the return of his foolish son. Where was all this mirth when he failed to acknowledge his faithful son?
No wonder the firstborn refused to enter the house. How dare his father celebrate the foolish one instead of chastising him and making him feel the gravity of his insolence. Where was the justice in all this? It wasn’t fair!
His father gently turned the tables. Firstly, the boy didn’t have to worry about losing out because everything belonged to him anyway. Secondly, and most importantly, how could he be anything but overjoyed at the return of the lost and the resurrection of the dead?
That older brother was clueless about his role of the firstborn. Overgrown with selfishness, all his “good deeds” were driven by the obsession with his status. The role of the firstborn was not self enrichment but service to the family. He was to take over meeting the family’s needs and ensuring the family’s survival. In light of this, it is unbelievable that this brother had the temerity to go into the fields as if all was normal when his brother was lost in a far away country. This older brother was worse off than his brother because he was lost at home.
This story was Jesus’ reply when the religious leaders wondered out loud about his questionable dinner companions. Jesus was the true firstborn. He wasn’t content to weed the garden while his brothers and sisters were lost. Nay! He felt the Father’s hunger for the lost and the dead and so went after them. The religious leaders of the day and the church of today have the same problem, namely, we don’t bother with our lost brothers and sisters because we are too busy working to earn what’s already ours: God’s approval. Our concern for our status trumps our concern for those we feel would disturb our progress.
It’s way past time we as the church forsook our self serving sanctimony and join in Jesus’ quest to seek,save and celebrate the lost and found.