"The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn't listen." (Luke 15:28, The Message)
We know not exactly how long the Prodigal had been gone from his father's house, but it was not a brief period. At least a few years had passed. And during all this time the father never stopped watching and waiting, yearning for the return of his beloved son.
George Morrison writes, "And always beside him was his elder son, with his heart utterly hardened to the prodigal—father and son a million miles apart. He was at home, under the same roof, and in his father's presence every day; while his brother, the prodigal, was in an alien land. Yet the elder brother was farther away from the father than his ne'er-do-well brother." (Devotional Sermons).
And in the same manner that the father ran out to meet his returning son, so he goes out to the elder son and tries to talk him into the party. But the elder brother would have none of it. Rather his bitterness spewed out the brooding anger that long had been in his heart.
It is a frightful thing when we allow a religious spirit to rise above our relationship with God and one another. The elder brother was diligent and obedient -- but hard. He was a pattern of industry and duty, putting in long hours in the fields and making sure the father's estate was prosperous. But there was something dreadfully wrong under the surface.
Not only did he have no affection whatsoever for his younger brother, which is seen in his spiteful words to his father -- "when this son of yours comes home" -- but, more to the point, his heart was bitter toward his father. "For years I have worked for you like a slave and have always obeyed you. But you have never even given me a little goat, so that I could give a dinner for my friends!"
"When anyone breaks out like that, it is not so extemporaneous as it seems. It is the boiling over, in some heated moment, of what has long been simmering in the heart." (Morrison)
He was so close to the Father, and yet so far away.