"But he spoke back to his father, 'Look, all these years I have worked for you like a slave, and I have never disobeyed your orders. What have you given me? Not even a goat for me to have a feast with my friends!" (Luke 15:29, GNB)
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the elder brother had serious personal issues! Not only against his younger brother who had been out running wild and blowing a fortune, but also against his father -- who welcomed the ragged boy back home with open arms.
What was his problem? Simply this -- he saw himself more as a slave, instead of a son. That's what religion will do to a soul. It will fill you with an ever-deepening sense of inadequacy, which in turn drives you to reach higher and higher in an effort to perform so as to finally become accepted. And, it enflames you with a raging jealousy against anybody who seems to get in without having to pay the price you have had to pay.
I've often wondered how the story would have turned out if the elder brother had met the prodigal returning home before the father had seen him. "You've got a lot of nerve showing your sorry face around here," I can hear him say. "You know you broke dad's heart, don't you? And thanks to you, my load of work has doubled! Why don't you just turn around and go back where you've been!"
And I also wonder if the reason the younger brother ran off was to get away, not from his father (who was clearly loving anf good), but rather to get away from his controling older brother.Remember the scene in Walk the Line, the movie about Johnny Cash and June Carter, when June is in the store and a lady walks up and says, "Your momma and daddy are good Christian folks." And June says, "Why thank you; I'll tell 'em you said so." But the lady then says, "I'm surprised they even speak to you -- divorce is an abomination to God!" It crushes Junes spirit, and as she turns to walk away, the self-righteous lady briskly dusts off the shelves in the store with a look of smug satisfaction on her face; after all, she has done her religious duty.
Jesus asked a most pointed question -- "Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt?" (Luke 6:42, the Message). Yep, the Bible got it right when it said, "It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own." (Matthew 7:3, the Message).
O Lord, have mercy on us all -- and save us from becoming rotten religious rascals!