Luke 15:25-30 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. (26) And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. (27) And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. (28) And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. (29) And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: (30) But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
All Scripture has one primary interpretation, but many applications. In the primary interpretation of the Parable of the Two Sons, the younger brother pictures the “publicans and sinners” and the elder brother pictures the “Pharisees and scribes” (Luke 15:1-2). Yet there are many applications to be found in this simple but sublime story. I ask the reader’s indulgence as I apply the elder son’s reaction to the prodigal’s return to what I have often seen in churches and especially youth groups over the years.
The elder son was angry. He was wrong to be angry, but he was angry. Perhaps when he heard the music inside he thought that the party was in his own honor. Perhaps he thought that his father had called his friends together in recognition of his faithfulness and service at home. When he asked and found that his wasteful, rebellious, sinful brother had come home, he was surprised, then shocked, then indignant. A party for the rebellious son??? He turned angrily away and would not go in the house.
He should have shared the attitude of his father, but he did not. He was wrong, there is no doubt about it. In his anger, he expressed his frustration – “All these years I have served you while your other son wasted your goods with riotous living. Now, when I thought that you had thrown a party for me, I find out that you are throwing it for the rebellious son instead.”
I have seen it over and over again in churches and youth departments, at youth camps and conferences and Christian School graduations. The young people who are faithful, who serve God every week, who never cause a bit of trouble, who are respectful and involved and obedient – are often not the ones receiving the recognition. It SEEMS like (emphasis here to be noted) the teens who are rebellious, worldly, smart-mouthed, wild, and un-involved for much of their teenage years, and yet suddenly return to the Lord and get involved at the end, are the ones who receive the attention and awards.
I have watched over the years as the class clown was awarded over the class servant; I have watched as the wild teenager was awarded ahead of the obedient one, simply because he or she was more popular. I have watched the worldly athlete honored over the spiritual soul-winner. And I have wondered: “What message are we sending?”
Please don’t misunderstand me. I thank God for prodigals who come home and I believe in lavishing love on them and helping to restore them to service. I just don’t believe it is right for us to ignore and take for granted those young people who never left for the far country. I believe in helping prodigals to get cleaned up. I also believe we ought to recognize those kids who never ended up in the hog pen. I believe in seeing drunks and addicts return and helping them overcome their addictions. I also believe we ought to appreciate the kids who’ve never tasted liquor, smoked a cigarette or taken a single drug. I believe in helping the morally fallen to be restored as much as possible. I also believe in honoring those who have kept themselves morally and physically pure.
As someone has said before, I want my kids to have a boring testimony. Most of us say that – but do our actions back it up?
Do we send a mixed message? Do we give so much attention to the prodigal that we make staying at home seem boring or mundane? More importantly, do we provoke the faithful kids to ANGER? Do they sit there and watch the awards go to others, and say to themselves, “What is the point? Why should I be in church every service? Why should I work on a bus and dress appropriately and memorize scripture and be respectful and obedient when I’m just ignored and taken for granted anyway?”
Of course, we know they should do it for the Lord. But teenagers are just human like the rest of us, and lack the maturity that even many adults struggle with. We tell them to humble themselves and take the injustice, and they often struggle to – but aren’t we responsible to lead them with justice? They need encouragement and help. They need to see the right things exalted and rewarded. They need to feel appreciated, loved, and recognized. I fear that some of our best young people are out of church today because they have not felt this from their leaders and churches.
What do we do for the “good kids?” What recognition do they receive? Do they receive our time and attention? Do we take them for granted? Have you ever given them a fatted calf barbecue?
Just some thoughts that I hope will make us think. Thank you for reading. God bless.