Bible Study of the Party Pooper – The Elder Son, Chap with a Chip

The Prodigal & Elder Son in Modern Life

File:James Tissot - The Prodigal Son in Modern Life, The Fatted Calf.jpg
File:James Tissot - The Prodigal Son in Modern Life, The Fatted Calf.jpg | Source

Luke 15

A Time For Celebration!

There is a jingle about counting your blessings, which we all need to do as a daily practice:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

As I sit in my office this morning and do this reckoning, this chorus leads me to rejoicing.  Rejoicing transforms the hour of devotions to a heavenly celebration and a holy thanksgiving.  Indeed, I sense a ‘party’ spirit, and I choose to start my day in festive gala.  This is the day the Lord has made; I am going to rejoice in it.

Rejoice, and I have every reason to do so.  Then it happens; some chap with a chip enters my moment with a complaint, not unlike the elder son in the Luke 15 parable of the prodigal son.

"Return of the Prodigal Son" by Rembrant

Prodigal son by Rembrandt (drawing, 1642).jpg Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606  1669 The Return of the Prodigal Son (1642) drawing with pen and brush (19  23 cm)  ca. 1642 Teylers Museum, Haarlem
Prodigal son by Rembrandt (drawing, 1642).jpg Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 1606 1669 The Return of the Prodigal Son (1642) drawing with pen and brush (19 23 cm) ca. 1642 Teylers Museum, Haarlem | Source

The Elder Son Was In The Field

'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"
'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'" | Source

There was a reason to party!

"For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to celebrate. "Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, 'Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!' And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"  (Luke 15:24-32)


If anyone had just cause to party, it was this father. However, this is also true for his elder son. This celebration should be the mother of all parties, but nothing of the kind could take place because of this party pooping pouter! Every blessing under the sun was his, but he cursed the good and tried to crash the festival. Think of all the blessings he could count. Just from the text, I can name several:

  1. He was a healthy son - He was able to be in the field – a vigorous young man;
  2. He was a faithful son – he honored his father, took care of the farm, worked hard, prospered, could have had fellowship with his father any time he chose.
  3. He was a rich son – Since he had not squandered his inheritance, he owned the entire estate by the will of his father.

A Closer Look At the Prodigal Son

However, for some reason he had built resentment and maybe a jealousy toward his brother.  This resentment was now displayed before his own benevolent dad, causing him to shun his loving father, and make a public display to embarrass the household.

How could such a debacle triumph over what should be a picture of celebration and family reunion?  To answer this we need to take a quick glance at the first part of this story, where the first prodigal son made his flight from the family, their faith, and mainly from the kindly care of his father.

And he said, "There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.' And he divided his property between them.  (Luke 15:11-12)

It is hard for us to fathom the magnitude of the prodigal’s sin here.  He, in essence, curses his dad with this heinous request.  “I cannot wait for your death; I want it now!” are despicable words.  This is more than an insult; this is a shunning of everything the father stood for.  No more nurturing, no more wise council, no more leadership from his father.  This is even a rejection of his father’s faith, of Jewish tradition, and of his community with its friendships developed over the years.

Then the prodigal has the audacity to add insult to the injury by taking his share of the inheritance and wasting it in areas that he knew even the Gentiles would fathom to want.  It is one thing to slip up in error and sin, but quite worse to take such error and follow it like a dog in heat.  Dollar upon dollar frittered away.  Prostitutes, alcohol, wanton friends like parasites, one long party time into degradation is his journey – until his fortune is no more.  He is so blinded by his fleshly passions that he did not see the end until the cliff horizon was crossed.

Even in his free-fall, he did not think first of his heritage.  He thinks any old job will tide him over, but work in his recession is near impossible.  He further insults his father and his faith by tending pigs.  We may not look at a pig farmer the same way, the Jews did, but his act itself warrants a shunning by every good Jew. 

It is at this point Jesus’ story of salvation comes alive.  The young sinner “comes to himself” and reflects on the goodness and the love and the possible forgiveness of his father.  This is a wonderful picture of repentance and forgiveness.  He knows the scars of his sins will not be erased, so he schemes to return as a servant and not a son.  He is not sure if his plan will work, but he gives the pigs a ‘permanent wave’ goodbye and begins his trek back to his father’s house.

Prodigal Son Tending Pigs

Beham, (Hans) Sebald (1500-1550): Der verlorene Sohn beim Schweinehten (The Prodigal Son tending the Swine). Kupferstich/engraving, datiert 1538. Blattgre 7,1 x 11,4 cm. (Plattenrnder beschnitten; minimaler Eckverlust links unten; drei winzige L
Beham, (Hans) Sebald (1500-1550): Der verlorene Sohn beim Schweinehten (The Prodigal Son tending the Swine). Kupferstich/engraving, datiert 1538. Blattgre 7,1 x 11,4 cm. (Plattenrnder beschnitten; minimaler Eckverlust links unten; drei winzige L | Source

A Closer Look At the Elder Son - The Party Pooper

Jesus now describes God’s love through the picture of this father’s response to his undeserving son returning. This son of rebellion had insulted, embarrassed and rejected all his love, but the father did not strike out but came running to his son and restored him with love.

So, Jesus answers the criticism of the Pharisees that he associated with sinners. Rather than make apology, He spoke of a party. There is always a heavenly rejoicing when a sinner comes to God and finds grace.

However, Jesus did not stop here. With eyes that pierce the soul, and with a tongue that pricks the very heart of every pharisaic critic, He continues the story about the ‘other’ son. If the father in the story represents our loving heavenly Father, and the prodigal represents the sinner in his journey back to forgiveness, the elder son must represent the ‘party poopers’ and critics which try to rob the church of its rightful inheritance of joy and celebration over souls being blessed by the grace of God.

Here is the other son, robust in health, always with the father, due for a full inheritance, with many respected friends and associates from the community. He ought to have a joy unspeakable; he ought to be a celebration ready to happen. However, the elder son in his abundance of blessings lost his treasure of joy.

What a picture of the drab nature of many of our churches. We sing “Amazing Grace” like it was anything but amazing. Is it possible to so indulge in grace that rather than rejoicing, we pout like children because we are not the center of attention?

The father in the story loves both his sons. He came in love to both, but he told the elder son that there was a reason to celebrate – his lost son had been found – his son, dead to him, is now alive again!

A Closer Look At the Party

To understand the sin of the elder son, look closely at this party.  When the prodigal left his father’s house, he ‘died’ to his father.  The like precious faith of his father and brother was rejected.  He spat upon tradition; everyone knew the horrors of the act; all their friends now are to shun him.  He wasted the earned fortune of his father’s sweat; he squandered it on prostitutes, and lived a live that utterly humiliated his father in the community. 

However, when he returned, rather than shunning him, his dad embraced him, gave him the family ring and robe.  Then, he threw the party.

The neighbors knew, and they had no respect for the son.  They did not come for him; they came because of the father.  The purpose of this party was not only to rejoice and celebrate; it was to announce the returned status of the prodigal.  It was, in essence, to announce, “My son that was dead (to me/us) is now alive again.”  I have no doubt in my mind that some were skeptical about this boy, but the neighbors were there to share in the father’s joy.

Now picture a barbecued calf (the best he had), all kinds of refreshments, neighbors gathered awaiting the dinner announcement and festivities.  The father enters the scene ready to embrace his family as one united, and this elder son refuses to come in.  For the second time in his life, he is publicly embarrassed.  Once again he is shunned, but not by the prodigal, but by the elder.  The potency of the joy of the moment is tarnished;  I believe most of the neighbors in their heart are siding with the elder, but they dare not voice it.  There is a chaos attempting to destroy the joy and jubilee of the father.

What happened to cause the elder son to behave this way?  He had lost his joy!  Celebration requires joy, and his resentment toward his brother had been building for a long time.  Although his inheritance was coming, and it was going to be full, he saw his work like that of a slave.  Many Christians get so busy doing good things they forget the joy of the work; they come to church on Sundays and forget to have a holy party.

Isn't Jesus Our LORD wonderful!

Sons Do Not Necessarily Make Brothers

This story is about two sons, but not two brothers.  Two sons do not make two brothers.  The communion of celebration in worship is a fellowship that binds.  The thing that makes Christians brothers/sisters is that we are all “saved by grace.”  All of us were dead, but now we are made alive!  All of us were lost but now we are found!

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6 comments

Tamarajo profile image

Tamarajo 5 years ago from Southern Minnesota

Your concluding paragraph says it all. What the party pooper was deluded in believing was that because of his own goodness he deserved something better. It goes along with the story of the workers who thought they deserved more pay because they worked longer and harder then those who came in later. Their focus was on their own works rather than the goodness and mercy of God.

I ejoyed reading your hub and its reminder to focus and rejoice in His goodness and celebrate His mercy to all who would come to repentance.


Pastor_Walt profile image

Pastor_Walt 5 years ago from Jefferson City, Tennessee Author

Tamarajo,

Thanks for the visit and comments!


lifegate profile image

lifegate 5 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

P W,

Thanks for a well written, enlightening hub. Yes, there were actually two prodigal sons. Neither better off than the other. Thanks for sharing.


Pastor_Walt profile image

Pastor_Walt 5 years ago from Jefferson City, Tennessee Author

Thanks for the visit and comments!


no body profile image

no body 5 years ago from Rochester, New York

Living in the flesh has its cost. It cost the prodigal with all that pain and degradation. It cost the other brother the joy and celebration. I want, I want, I want. Imagine how horrified I am to see myself behave like that and then have to come to myself and repent before my Father, again and again. He receives me again and again in fellowship. But the pain I inflict on myself each jaunt out of fellowship is tremendous. That is what I look forward to in heaven. No more sin. No more drifting No more coming to myself. Just serving and being joyful forever.


shofarcall profile image

shofarcall 3 years ago

Thank you for this detailed hub concerning 'The Prodigal son.' Yes, so many nuances and references to so many other aspects besides the central figures. I just LOVE the image of the father rushing out, joyously, beside himself, to welcome his 'lost' son home with clean garments and the family ring and then the celebration and the fatted calf. And showing us, so clearly, that all our schemings count for nothing. That our Father is Love, Forgiveness and filled with Mercy, if we will but come to Him.

As someone else said here, the elder son thought he deserved more/better than his brother, not realising how blessed his life already was. Please Lord, open our eyes that we may see as you see. Amen

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