The story of the prodigal son is a well-know parable from Scripture (if you need a refresher, click here). This longer tale is the final in a trilogy of parables about the lost being found, starting with the sheep and passing through the coin before arriving at the son. Our joy verse comes at the very end of the passage, but a little bit of a an intro is needed first.
The prodigal son has an older brother, who is NOT HAPPY that his brother is being celebrated. In fact, he’s pretty angry and tells his father exactly what he thinks about the whole situation. Their conversation is found in Luke 15:28-32.
Then [the older brother] became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’
With the stories of the sheep and the coin, we only get a glimpse of the one who is lost and the fervent love that God has for that person. He pursues them relentlessly in order to bring them back. But in this story, we also get to see what the attitude and reaction is of the others, the ones who aren’t lost. For someone like me, a life-long Christian, it hits home.
I am the older brother. I want to be celebrated for staying with it, for sticking with the faith. I want my party. I want to know that the angels in heaven rejoice over me. I want the best robe and the ring and my Father running to greet me with joy. And I can get resentful of the ones who have lived lives apart from God, the ones who are coming into the fold. I’ve been doing this my whole life! I memorized Bible verses and the catechism. I had perfect attendance in Sunday school for more than ten years! I went to a Christian college, married a pastor, and work for a church. Where’s my celebration?
The thing is, I’m always part of the celebration. I get to celebrate each and every person who walks through our church doors, looking for Jesus. I get to teach young people and watch their faith grow by leaps and bounds. I may not be the guest of honor, but I am on the guest list. I get a front-row seat at the parade thrown for those God has called to faith. And that’s pretty amazing. For an introvert like me, it’s actually way better than any party with my name on it.