What is the first word that comes to your mind when you hear the phrase "older brother?" For me, it is pride.
Many times we do this due to personal experience. As a younger brother, I can certainly attest that there is a pride about all older siblings that pervades their dealings with their younger comrades. As a younger brother, I can also attest to the fact that it is the job of the junior members of the family to pester our proud elder siblings into showing off their pride in ridiculous and indisputable ways (ask me sometime to tell you about the time my big brother, Dusty, stopped the car and made my twin brother, Jay, get out and walk up the hill of our dirt road!)
The other factor that causes us to associate pride and elder brothers is a story Jesus himself once told us. As he told the story, a man had two sons. One day his youngest decided to take his shenanigans on the road and ditch his responsible older brother and caring father. There is much that can be said about the son's request here, the most devastating of which is the fact that, in that culture, asking for dad's inheritance is as big a slap in the face as hiring a hit man to take the old man out. He could care less if dad lived or died, he wanted what he wanted when he wanted it and the rest of society would have to live at his beck and call.
We know the next part of the story all too well. Imagine an over-privaleged punk who is on his own with his pops' money. A few bad bets, a couple of drunken escapades and a no-holds-barred sexual adventure later and the greedy punk has turned into a sad, pitiable, broke, and hopeless shell of a man.
And that's when the change comes about him. "What if," he says to himself from the midst of the ruinous state his life has quickly become, "I swallow my pride and go back to my father? I left a son, maybe he will take me back as a day-laborer (no, our culture did not invent this occupation)."
Now, please do not read over the rest of the story too quickly. There is so much that we miss for reading too fast.
The younger brother goes home and dad runs after him. Like a madman who has found a treasure in a field runs to sell all he has to buy the field; like a housewife's heart races when she finds her lost money. Dad runs after his silly little son who wasted half the money it took him a whole lifetime to acquire. Then he hugs him, disregarding the smelliness of pig-slop-infested clothes. He kisses his son in spite of the fact that his son has not seen a bath since he left home so many months ago.
It is beautiful, God's love. He loves all his younger, sillier sons just like this! When we have thrown life in the ditch, he has been waiting, watching, and compelling us (how do you think the kid ever decided to go home if not for a convicting, comforting voice?) to come home. Beautiful.
Then something unexpected happens in the telling of the story. Jesus wheels on the prideful bastards whose consciences have been shocked (with good reason, I might add) by the father's seemingly easy forgiveness of his wayward, prodigal son. He tells us about that prideful, arrogant older brother.
You know the older brother, right? He is the one who has actually bought the ridiculous lie all these years that his obedience has kept him in the role of sonship. He has really thought that his little brother has shamed his father and family to the point of no return. It would no longer look good for this family to take back a loser who was busy donating his time and father's money to prostitutes. If his little brother were to return, he might have thought to himself, at least we should make him sleep outside for a couple of days. If his little brother was back at least he should be in charge of hosing him off till his skin was blood-red. He had to pay a price, right?
The funny thing is that in the midst of all this stewing the brother had walked outside of his dad's house. Losing sight of the fact that the goal is to be the father's son, he has gone outside to curse the heavens (or could it have been a passive-aggressive move to get his dad to come outside and let him have a piece of his mind?).
Well, the good news is that dad did in fact go out to meet the prideful older brother. He told him to come home. He told him that he was happy to have him around too. He invited him to share in his overflowing riches of mercy, grace, and joy.
Who knows if the older brother ever re-joined the party? Jesus leaves us wondering if he too will hear the Spirit's convicting, comforting voice calling him to come home?
Leaving the conclusion aside for a moment, think with me for just one more minute about our common older brother. Do you know that Jesus is proud to call you his brother?
It's true! The writer of the book of Hebrews took a lot of comfort in the fact that Jesus himself, the display and embodiment of all we were made to be, is not at all ashamed that you and I are his brothers. In fact, Paul takes comfort in the fact that we are fellow heirs with Jesus in the overflowing riches of mercy, grace, and joy of our father.
Jesus, the one who loved us enough to become our older brother is proud of us. And this true whether we have thrown our lives into a proverbial or literal pigpen. Jesus, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation is proud to call you his brother.
Seriously, what could ruin our day when we really believe this down to the core of our being? What will separate us from God's love at this point? Divorce? Our bridegroom Jesus Christ has promised he will never leave us. Death? Our big brother already defeated our most ancient and powerful enemy. Our sin? Please! He knows what we were made of and loved us enough to be born of a woman for us, keep every part of the law for us, suffer under a tyrant for us, take on the shame of the cross for us, die for us, raise to new life for us and promise to return for us.
In the meantime do you know what Jesus, our proud older brother does right now? He prays for you. He prays for me. He lifts up his support for us before the throne of our common Father.
Your older brother is not prideful; He is proud of you. He is for you.