Read Luke 15:25-32
25-32 But his elder son was out in the fields, and as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants across to him and enquired what was the meaning of it all. ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has killed the calf we fattened because he has got him home again safe and sound,’ was the reply. But he was furious and refused to go inside the house. So his father came outside and called him. Then he burst out, ‘Look, how many years have I slaved for you and never disobeyed a single order of yours, and yet you have never given me so much as a young goat, so that I could give my friends a dinner? But when that son of yours arrives, who has spent all your money on prostitutes, for him you kill the calf we’ve fattened!’ But the father replied, ‘My dear son, you have been with me all the time and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and show our joy. For this is your brother; I thought he was dead—and he’s alive. I thought he was lost—and he is found!’” (JBP)
The hardest people to reach with the good news of grace are those who reckon they have no need of it. That regular churchgoer who knows the set prayers and lives a reasonably good life is more resistant to the gospel than the person who wanders into a church from the literal or metaphorical gutters.
The conclusion of the Prodigal Son parable reinforces this. The younger son knew he had made a mess of things and was able to receive grace. The older son reckoned he had done all the right things and so did not seem able to celebrate grace. He could only sneer at his sibling who had gone astray, angry that his own dutiful obedience had not been rewarded.
There is nothing wrong with dutiful obedience, and we certainly don’t aim to go off to the pigsties of a far country in order to better appreciate grace. But it is true that as we live a generally decent life and play by the rules we can come to think less of grace and more of reward. We may come to look down on those who have gone astray and pat ourselves on the back for not being like that.
This older brother is a picture of all who would be proudly religious. He is a reminder that not all rebels against God are wasteful and wanton evildoers. Some rebels are very respectable indeed.