There’s a famous story which Jesus told about the prodigal son. But did you know there were actually two prodigal sons? The more well known was the younger brother who strayed from the Father’s house. But there was also the older son who stayed in the Father’s house. Yet he had some profound issues in his life too.
When the younger son humbly returned after his reckless escapades, the Father wanted to throw a party to celebrate the occasion. But the older son strongly objected. After all, what was there to celebrate since his younger sibling had forfeited the responsibilities of sonship in favour of a nomadic existence? On the surface, the elder son’s protestation seems reasonable. But lurking behind the ‘concern’ was a sinister old enemy called… jealousy.
Thing is, when jealousy manifests itself, it’s a sign of a prodigal heart. The older son didn’t care that his younger brother had come home. On the contrary, he sneered at the attention being directed towards his rebellious sibling who had since humbled himself and asked forgiveness from the Father. But none of this mattered to big brother. See, the older son’s lack of grace and absence of compassion is what cold religion is like. It is only interested is in being proven right, not loving people.
The older son was not simply just as much a prodigal as his younger brother. No, he was far more extreme. Sure, the younger boy had been thoughtless and irresponsible in the way he had lived. But at least he ‘came to his senses’ and repented. Not so with the older son. By staying in the Father’s house, he had developed an entitlement mentality – cold, clinical, careless. He was subsequently offended at the grace offered by his father to a little brother who was as good as dead to him. The jealousy was real.
This story serves as a warning. When you find yourself justifying feelings of jealousy and refusing to celebrate the grace of God in others, this is a dangerous place to be. There is no justification whatsoever for us to live like that. We are all at the mercy and grace of a Father in heaven who knows the worst about each of us – yet chooses to forgive us when we come to him. A prodigal heart wanders from the wonder of grace, even when it appears to be near to God.
Jealousy is graceless, thankless and spiteful. It prides itself on being closer to God than others – and detests anyone who might get closer. But grace is not fair – God gives more to those who need it more.
The lesson Jesus wants us to learn from the older prodigal is….deal with jealousy in your heart. Ditch any notion of entitlement and live thankfully every day for God’s grace. This is the vaccine that will protect you against the toxicity of jealousy. It will free you to celebrate and appreciate the grace of God in others. This is a better, more liberating, more fulfilling way to live.