We finished our series Lose Your Religion just over a week ago, but I still have things on my mind that I just couldn’t include in my teaching. One of the most powerful parables that Jesus tells is actually a rebuttal of religion. The parable has different names like The Prodigal Son or The Lost Son or The Loving Father. I think it could also be called the parable of The Angry Brother. It is the third of three parables about something lost and the joy that comes when it is found. We find the parable of The Angry Brother in Luke 15:11-32. But notice the context in Luke 15:1-2! This parable is told to the religious people who were “muttering” about Jesus who welcomed people the religious folks had judged, hated and avoided, like the tax collectors (who deserved to go to jail) and sinners.
The parable is about a son who took his early inheritance and wasted it on a “boys gone wild” experience. It is also about his father’s love and grace as he waits for him to come home, and throws a party when he does. But those are just details to set up the real story. The real story is about how the older brother responds. When the younger son repents and returns home and dad celebrates his return, the older brother erupts in anger. The older brother represents religion, religious folks and religious responses. Religion is unable to love, and in fact, naturally responds to sinners with judgement, hate and anger.
This is a parable of relationship versus religion. The older brother (religion) is angry that his father (God) would welcome his horrible son (a sinner) home with love and grace (vs. 28). Religious people are angry… period. They are angry at themselves for their own religious failures. They are angry at God for loving sinners and not rewarding them for being good. The older brother (religion) reminds his dad (God) in verses 29-30 about all he’s sacrificed, how he’s obeyed for years, and never got a party like the one the father’s throwing! He thinks he better than his wayward brother. It wasn’t fair! He earned his right-standing with his dad and wants the pay off! Religion can never foster love but only fosters resentment, fear and anger.
The older brother not only refused to welcome the lost son home, but he refused to join the party. Religious people really don’t want sinners coming into church or their lives because “those people” will mess things up! They will bring their bad morals, activities, beliefs and lifestyles into the church and the church will have to change for them – so they fear. Religious people want sinners to change before they come, or at least right away, or stay out. Religion, on so many levels, blocks people as they want to come back to God.
Notice the great contrast and tragedy. The dad (representing God) is celebrating in generous love the lost one who came home. The older brother (representing religion) is angry, jealous, entitled and refuses to welcome the lost, wants nothing to do with him, and is totally absent of love. He judged both his brother and his father as being bad and himself as being good. That’s religion – blind hypocritical judgement (the older brother only sees the bad in others and doesn’t see how bad he is!).
Jesus tells the parable to encourage us to lose our religion! Jesus wants us to respond to those who are far from God or who are wanting to come home to God with wide open, welcoming arms of love. We offer acceptance, grace and love and refuse to to put up a barrier of judgement. We all are saved by grace and none of us can ever earn a good enough standing with God. As we embrace grace and lose our religion, anger dissipates and is replaced by gratitude for grace that allows us to respond in love. May it be so!