We recently added a new cat to our family, which upset our older cat Maggie, who has not taken kindly to the presence of little curious Clementine. Maggie has been known to drop her aloof demeanor from time to time to give out a decent amount of cuddly affection, but that changed right after Clementine joined us. Maggie has recently taken to avoiding all of us by hiding in absurd places throughout our house and growling at anyone who tries to get too close to her. All this over another cat.
Maggie has made a pathetically irrational choice to remove herself from the joy and happiness our family always has to offer her, which is exactly what the older brother in “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” did.
Found in Luke 15:11-32, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” features the titular character first asking his father for his share of the inheritance, squandering it in another country, then returning home filled with guilt and humility. The Prodigal came home fully prepared to work for his father not as his son, but as a servant. Instead, his father reacted with sheer joy and relief to see his son home safe and sound. That night, his father had the servants throw a grand celebration for his son who was lost but finally found.
Unfortunately, there was one person in this Parable who was not pleased with this joyous occasion. The Prodigal Son’s older brother stood outside their home, stewing in bitterness and self-pity, refusing to come inside even as their father begged him to. Verses 25-32 of the passage describe the older brother’s petty anger:
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“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.’” (Luke 15:25-32)
As you can see, the older brother essentially accused his younger sibling of being a brat with no financial self-control, but revealed himself to be the real brat. This grown man allowed himself to get pissy over everyone else on his father’s estate focusing for just one night on his little brother. Just as our cat Maggie seems to be dealing with a ridiculous amount of jealousy towards Clementine, the older brother was unnecessarily jealous of the abundant love their father was showing the younger son. This, despite their father making it very clear to his bitter first-born that he was always appreciative of all the hard work his elder son did for him.
At the end of the story, it’s made plain for the reader to see that the older brother was the true brat of this tale. What’s especially bratty about the older brother’s attitude in this parable is that he couldn’t be bothered to be even remotely happy that his little brother came home safe and sound. That’s downright cruel, given that his little brother was lost in another country for an unspecified amount of time, without any of his family knowing what had happened to him.
From the human perspective, it’s all too easy when we’re upset to make irrational choices like the older brother did, such as excluding ourselves from moments of others’ joy to wallow in our anger and self-pity. We are punishing nobody but ourselves, however, when we do this. Maggie, my beloved but unfortunately aloof cat, is now doing the same just because she is no longer the only cat in our house. Her angry desire to seclude herself from all of us prevents us from giving her even the smallest bit of affection, just like the older brother in the parable did to himself.
In the end, it was ironically the younger brother who had the more humble mindset, instead of the older brother who went out of his way to accuse his sibling of immaturity. God values sincere humility from all of us, because it’s a wholesome trait that leads to reconciliation in multiple forms.
And as the older brother refused to acknowledge, there is no humility in spitefully separating yourself from somebody else’s happiness.