25 “Now his elder son was in the field. As he came near to the house, he heard music and dancing.”
We call this the parable of the prodigal son, but actually Jesus began this parable by telling us a certain man had “two sons.” We just read what happened to the son who left home. Now we embark on the story of the son who stayed.
We are parking on this solitary verse today, because it shows the elder son at a crossroads. He’s been in the field. That suggests he’s been working– although it’s possible he was just checking his (ancient equivalent of a) newsfeed, flirting with the servant girls, or taking a nap. And he hears music and dancing. How will he react? Will he say, “wow! A party! How fun!” and run toward it? Or will he scowl, assume the worst, and summon someone to confirm his suspicions?
How do we feel when we hear music and dancing? How do we feel when we’ve been working– or when we’ve been slacking off? Our reactions reveal our hearts. If we’re living out of joyful recognition of all God has already done for us, we will run and join the celebrations without hesitation. We’re already living in celebration.
But if we wake up with a burden to prove ourselves, we’ll always feel like we’re not getting enough recognition. We’ll be suspicious. We’ll be full of self-pity. We’ll scowl. If we’ve been working, we’ll be mad at people who aren’t working. And if we’ve been slacking off, our judgment and condemnation will fall on ourselves as well as other people; we’ll hate ourselves and anyone else who is happy even more. The burden our flesh places on us is too heavy for any human to bear. We’ll never be good enough or work hard enough, to earn heaven.
It’s no way to live.
God longs for us to come out into the light. He invites us into truth– the place where we admit we will always fall short of perfection and so can stop pretending. God already loves us. He’s already paid the price on the cross to cover our failings. He asks only that we repent of perfectionism and instead join the party. The music and dancing have begun. How will we respond?