In the story of the prodigal son we usually focus on the younger son who disrespectfully asks for his inheritance while his father is alive and well. He takes a trip abroad and spends all he’s been given on “riotous living.” When the money runs out and he finds himself living with pigs (literally), he returns home and is graciously received by his father who has been longing and waiting for his return. The younger son makes us think of our own waywardness and of the forgiveness God has given to us regardless of how far we have strayed. The father exemplifies our gracious and loving God who loves, forgives and extends mercy and grace to all who sincerely seek Him. Both characters make us feel good! Yet, we can’t really like the older son. We identify with the younger son and with the father, but we really don’t take into consideration that we may in reality be much more like the older son.
Scriptures – 1 Sa 18:9; Je 29:11; Mt 6:15; Lk 15:25-26, 28-32
The older brother became angry and refused to go in. Lk 15:28 “’My son’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost is found.’” Lk 15:31-32
The story depicts the striking contrast between joy and jealousy. Within the house there’s a celebration. A child who strayed from his home, his family, his values and his upbringing has returned. He admits the error of his ways and is received by his father who is so overcome with joy that he throws a party, gives his son a robe and ring to welcome his safe return. In contrast, the older son is unable to celebrate; his focus is on himself. He feels slighted. He has been dutiful and respectful and sees the celebration for his wayward brother as an insult to his faithfulness. He refuses to go into the house where the party is in full swing. When his father pleads with him to come in, he shows his heart, and it isn’t pretty. When we cannot celebrate the accomplishments, joys, and wins that happen in the lives of those around us—friends, family, etc., our heart shrinks. Jealousy has made a home and the older son begins to expound on his brother’s faults and failures and on his own exemplary character. Jealousy causes us to criticize and judge others in order to inflate our own position and ego. However, a jealous person just makes himself look bad and petty while feeling lousy doing it. There is also a huge contrast between contentment and resentment. The older son, though dutiful, obviously lacked contentment. He was going through the motions and everyone probably believed him to be devout and faithful. Yet his reaction leads to another conclusion. When a person is truly content with what God has done for them, the blessings that others receive won’t be a thorn. Discontentment breeds jealousy and resentment. The power of God’s Spirit living within us gives us the ability to be thankful for what we have and allows us to celebrate with others the blessings of God in their lives.
Has jealousy ever taken you by surprise? Explain. How do you deal with an unexpected surge of jealousy? Is jealousy a natural human inclination? How easy is it for you to celebrate the blessings and successes of others? Does God really bless some people more than others or do we have a skewed definition of blessings? Can you be thankful without being content? Are you content? Explain. How do we gain and hold on to contentment?
If you are harboring jealousy, take an honest look at yourself and the situation. Pray, seek counsel from a Christian friend, and work toward contentment with what God has given you. When you are content with what you have and where you are in life, jealousy loses its foothold.
Forgiving and gracious Father, your love and mercy have welcomed me home time and time again. Thank you for your ever-open arms! Help me to find joy in my blessings and to celebrate the blessings others receive as well. You have given me exactly what I need and I am thankful. Give my heart contentment and safety in your plan. In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.