by Tad Lindley
Remember the Parable of the Elder Brother? Maybe you’ve heard it called the Parable of the Lost Boy or the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s about a young man who leaves home to party. Then he runs out of money and friends and goes home broke and repentant. In case you’ve missed it, here it is. I’ll meet you on the other side of the italics.
And He said, “A man had two sons. “The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. “And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. “Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. “So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. “And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. “But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! ‘I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. “And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. “And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ “But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. “But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ “And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. ‘But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15:11-32 NASB)
The Father’s attitude
When the boy decided to head home, he had no thought of becoming an equal member of the household again. He was willing to eat and sleep with the servants. He anticipated that his father might not even let him do that. Much to his surprise, the father received him with open arms. He threw a big celebration and reinstated him as a member of the family. Not only that, he had the fatted calf killed.
The fatted calf
In preparation for a feast of celebration the father had been fattening up a calf. This was not an accidental thing. Day by day this particular calf was given extra food so that it would be fatter than the rest. Even as his son was blowing his money on women and alcohol, the father was there dumping an extra measure of grain in the calf’s food. Even when the son was living a grotesque lifestyle feeding pigs and drooling over the pig slop, the father was faithful, preparing for celebration. Feeding the calf represented a belief that even during the darkest days, that victory would come.
The older brother’s attitude
Now look at the older brother in the parable above. He was not at all excited about the younger brother’s return. He was angry. When the father came out to see him, he condemned his younger brother, “Who does he think he is showing back up after he treated us like that!”
Celebration versus condemnation
When someone you know fails, let’s say they get a DWI, or they get caught in an affair. How do you approach it? Do you focus on condemnation, or do you pray for their restoration? Do you spread the bad news all over town, or do you bring it to God in prayer? Are you like the father, grieving the loss, and yet feeding the calf in faith of an eventual celebration, or like the older brother, resentful and desiring their ultimate downfall?
If you know someone who is struggling hard with sin, they need someone to believe in them, to lift them up. They do not need more condemnation heaped on top of their failure. Think about the people you know who are struggling and let me ask you this, “Have you fed the calf lately?”
Tad Lindley is a minister at the United Pentecostal Church in Bethel, Alaska.