The problem of the elder son in the story of the Parable of the Lost Son mentioned in Luke 15 is that he did not see the joy of his father. He did not feel the joy of seeing his younger brother coming home. Why? It is because he was occupied with his own entitlement. (Entitlement means the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.) He was focused on what was his right, and was not able to feel the joy of the father.
We are not saying here that there are no rewards for those who work hard. What we are saying is that the joy of our Father in heaven should be our main focus in life. Do you see the joy of our heavenly Father in your daily life? Sadly, in our society today, people give more time and energy to collecting rewards and privileges. We seek out accolades and demand recognition from our friends and families, to the point that we stop longing for the experience of God’s joy in our daily lives? Ask yourselves: “Do you feel the joy of God in your life?”
More challenging is that, even inside the church, we are experiencing this life of entitlement. Just like the elder brother, we tell God, we say to ourselves, “We deserve better.” We say: I have been a Christian for a long time, I should receive respect. We say: I have all these leadership experiences and academic degrees, people should recognize me. (In some older churches we hear this next one.) We say: My grandparents and relatives have worked hard for the growth of this church. Therefore, they should listen to me. *
The focus is not on what we deserve or what special treatment we hope to receive. The focus is on how our hearts, our spirits, our being, are aligned to God’s joy and compassion for people. Ask yourselves: “When you are singing, talking, being with your friends, and moving about in your workplace or at school, do you sense God in your heart? Do you feel the joy of God in your life?” Go ahead and turn to the person next to you, and ask them this question: Do you feel the joy of God in your life?
In the same way, the younger brother was also out of focus in his life. Even after he realized his sins, and was remorseful, he still did not feel the joy of his father. He wanted to change and leave his miserable life, and yet he could not relate to his father with love, but only as a servant or worker. In Luke 15:20-21, the story says that his father ran to him, embraced him, and kissed him. Despite all these affection, the younger son’s reply was out of self-pity. He said: “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” His remorse and negative feelings is blinding him from seeing the love of the father. We should ask ourselves: When we are down and life is a mess, do we still seek out the joy of the heavenly Father in our lives?
What is most important is seeing and feeling the joy of our God the Father in our daily walk. In the Parable of the Lost Son, we see the joy of the father for both the younger and the elder sons. When the younger son was coming home, the father saw him from a far and ran to meet him, and welcomed him with a loving fatherly kiss (see verse 20). In the same way, when the elder son felt angry and refused to go inside the house for the celebration, the father went out of his way, went outside and pleaded with the elder son (see verse 28). We see the compassion of the father for both sons. Do you feel God’s joy reading this parable?
The Pharisees and the Scribes could not feel God’s joy because they are self-righteous. They are more concerned with the people around them and knowing who is the sinner and non-sinner. The younger son is lost, not only in his sins, but also in his guilt. He could not experience the love and joy of the father because of his self-pity. The elder son is full of anger and resentment. He cannot feel the joy of the father because of his self-entitlement. Let us not follow their examples. Let us submit our selves to God and pray that our heavenly Father will open our eyes and ears so that we can experience his joy.
Many people know that I enjoy taking care of plants. I have a potted plant garden outside our house. It is a small space but enough to care for twenty or so plants. I am happy when the plants grow, flowers bloom, and bees and butterflies come and visit my little garden. I am elated and more happy when our neighbors pass by and admire the colors of my potted plants. What really gives me abundant joy is knowing the fact that God is pleased with my garden. If you were going to ask me: “Do you feel the joy of God in what you do?” My answer is yes. Whether I am sharing the Good News to someone, or preaching God’s word from the pulpit, or simply caring for my garden, I know I can sense God’s joy in my life.