The Buzzkill Brother
Before he was the prodigal son, he was the younger one. And this parable of Jesus, preceded by two others,came as the chef d’oeuvre among all his other meaningful tales. The story comes powerfully and hits home especially to sinful, rebellious, gambling-induced,babe-and-booze mishaps. The younger brother went into an adventure that sold away his soul – no Holden Caulfields or a greater Gatsby could ever capture the simplicity yet the eternal power of this story. A son distances himself from home, walks away with his two feet, takes the inheritance that he was supposed to have only when the father’s dead, and enjoys the thrills the world has to offer and money could ever purchase. I am intrigued by this word – “enjoy”. What I truly enjoy, I become. The younger son spent as pompous as he could yet was left as hollow as a vault robbed clean. He enjoyed whatever gold he could offer – up to the very last drop. And his joy was empty joy because his pockets were. He became poor on the inside-out. Soon, swarms of nostalgic memories came. We know this feeling. To the person who has nothing but a tomorrow devoid of dreams, only the clear vision of the past becomes a chilling reminder of a heart, broken by wrong decisions and rash actions. His heart remembered home. His heart remembered father. And he started to wake up to the depressing reality of who he is and who he’s become.
His journey home is our journey. What he expected as a harsh beating from father, came as a weak expectation. He was blown away by a more powerful smack: a running old, Jewish man; a sweet,full-force embrace; and a welcome home party that melts the hardest of rocks. Love’s power conquers the prodigal. What came next was riveting. It was the story of the other prodigal.
The elder brother was the party pooper. He’s supposed to be. Realistically speaking, he’s the better half. He’s the university’s summa cum laude. The obedient altar boy who does everything by the book. The teacher’s pet who never fails to polish the daily apple. The employee whose picture is plastered on the company’s annual wall of fame. However, as we pan over the camera focus to him, while the background is a party and the music is either that of a Gangsta Rapper or a dancing Korean sensation, we see the older brother mulling over the depths of Hades with his face buried on the ground. “Look,” he says to his father, “these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” The better half becomes the bitter huff. He’s a buzzkill; the killjoy. The father’s reply brought life to life. “Son, you are always with me…” This got me thinking. Who’s closer to father is closer home. His brother’s feet left home a long time ago. His own heart did the same. He was not “enjoying” the Father.
“You are always with me.” This statement! How could he ever miss the whole point of joy? He could be best in what he does but not really good in who he was. He’s the son. And as it is, inside me, too, is a lonely houseboy. I see that in either one way or another, I too could end up like the older brother. I could go over all the motions of keeping all the house rules and fixing things and doing the good things, but still end up not hitting the heart of the matter. I could somehow fail to enjoy and cherish the father. I become what I enjoy the most. The older brother’s self became bigger and bigger and it defined who he is: what he accomplished and what he did not do. He’s more to himself than to truly valuing the most important character in the story: the father. At the end of the day, I just don’t want to enjoy the good things as if they were the God things. What I truly enjoy, I become. I just don’t want to be someone who’s known for doing a lot of glorious things for the father, but not knowing the father himself. I don’t want to build a house but not a home. I don’t want to be in the father’s house but not desire the father’s heart.
Jesus’ story ends with the father’s invitation to the older brother to celebrate with him and his younger brother. To celebrate being with him. Then, the story stops. The open-ended invitation haunts us up to this very day. It’s from the father.
In the midst of the party and the celebration, where will we be?
“The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever” -John Piper (in highlighting Westminster Catechism’s words by paraphrasing it)