"Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." -- Luke 15:23-24
The prodigal son left his father's home, squandered his inheritance on wild living, then threw himself humbly on his father's mercy to set up one of the signature passages of rejoicing found in the Bible.
The son, knowing he had no right to be treated any better than a hired hand, is heading home to what he thinks will be a gloomy reception at best. But he is in for a surprise, as we see in the earlier parts of Luke 15:
"... while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.'"
It's easy for us, sinners all, to put ourselves in that position and get a warm feeling about how merciful God is. It is truly a joyful reunion -- but not for everyone.
The prodigal son's brother, who remained faithful to his father, is disturbed by the turn of events:
"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
"'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"
Many of us identify quite readily with the older brother. This parable flies in the face of our sense of fairness and may even raise questions about God's justice.
But a second reading reveals this parable is deeper than it seems. Yes, Jesus is saying there is a special rejoicing in heaven for the found coin, the lost sheep, or the prodigal son. But look at how readily the older brother discounts family in his pursuit of "justice."
This is his BROTHER who has returned, not just some acquaintance of his father's. Yet he is lost in thoughts of himself.
The older brother has been truly blessed. He has rested in the presence of his father, suffering no hardship, the entire time his brother has been gone. Yet his sins are great. He is angry, self-righteous, ungrateful, greedy, envious.
The scene is suddenly reminiscent of Cain in the shadow of Abel. Cain offers gifts to God, but on HIS terms.
Look at the prodigal son and his brother through God's eyes and you see the KEY ingredient: They are brothers, just as we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
If we are in the older brother's position, and if we love Christ, we should be leading the parade to kill the fatted calf.
And we should be rejoicing more loudly than anyone else.